Monday, April 16, 2012

More of Nothing

The so-called "Buffet Rule" failed in the Senate today, with a vote of 51-45 to proceed with a vote on the legislation. This Democratic-backed proposal would have required higher-income Americans (those making at least $1 million) to be taxed at a minimum 30 percent rate.  

Many of the themes that are commonly cited for the current gridlocked political landscape were present in this legislative failure. For one thing, the bill failed in the Senate despite a vote of 51-45. This counter-intuitive result is due to the super-majoritarian character of the Senate: because the minority party can simply engage in a "silent filibuster," the bill needs at least 60 votes to pass. What's worse, because the minority party can filibuster motions to proceed (in addition to the substantive bill itself), Democrats needed to gather 60 votes just to get the Buffett Rule considered in the first place. 

Of course, partisan politics once again dominated the vote. Almost all of the Senate Republicans voted against the proposed legislation, while almost all Democrats voted for it. Senate Republicans stood united in opposition,  despite a recent Gallup poll that suggests 60% of voters support the measure.  Moreover, instead of attempting to negotiate with Democrats on this proposal, House Republicans plan on putting forth an even less-likely counterproposal, which would cut taxes by 20 percent for businesses with 500 or fewer employees (approximately 99.5% of all companies in the U.S.). 

Lost in this partisan wrangling is a genuine debate on the potential policy benefits of this proposal. For example, according to a recent CNN editorial, the Buffet Rule ultimately will not help the deficit problem "because it's a drop in the bucket. The most optimistic projections are that the rule might raise $50 billion a year," or about 3% of the projected $1.5 trillion deficit. 

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