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Senate Republicans Block Debate On Buffett Rule


President Obama's so-called Buffett rule has slammed into a wall of GOP opposition. On the eve of tax day, Senate Republicans voted yesterday to block a measure that would have made mega-investor Warren Buffett and billionaires and millionaires like him pay at least a 30 percent tax rate. Although Buffett endorses such a rule, Senate Republicans call it an election year gimmick. Their Democratic counterparts insist it's all about fairness. NPR's David Welna has our story.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Senate Democrats call their bill hiking taxes on some 22,000 millionaires the Paying a Fair Share Act. Chief sponsor Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island readily acknowledged what Republicans have been saying about the Buffett Rule bill, that it's not about lowering the unemployment rate or the price of gasoline.

SENATOR SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: It will not bring world peace. It won't save endangered whales from extinction. It won't cure the common cold. Will do none of those things. It will restore the confidence of middle-class Americans in our tax system by assuring that those at the very top of the income spectrum aren't paying lower rates than regular families do.

WELNA: Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski said the Buffett rule was, in a word, about fairness.

SENATOR BARBARA MIKULSKI: You need to pay your fair share. This is what America is all about - fairness.

WELNA: Just one Republican, Maine's Susan Collins, added her vote in favor to those of 49 Democrats and one Independent. Their 51 votes, while a majority, were still shy of the 60 votes needed under Senate rules.

Arkansas' Mark Pryor was the only Democrat who voted with Republicans to block consideration of the measure. South Dakota Republican John Thune, who is in charge of the Senate GOP's messaging, called the Buffett rule a solution in search of a problem.

SENATOR JOHN THUNE: The bill before us would do one thing and one thing only, and that is target higher taxes on a small subset of our population in order to serve a political purpose.

WELNA: And number two Republican Jon Kyl said four out of five taxpayers who'd been affected reporting business income.

SENATOR JON KYL: So this is a tax that would disproportionally affect small businesses and other job creators.

WELNA: Democrats rejected Kyl's assertion. According to the U.S. Treasury, they said, barely 3 percent of small businesses would pay any more taxes under the Buffett rule.

But the chef GOP complaint was that this was all part of the campaign to re-elect President Obama. Mitch McConnell leads the Senate Republicans.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: President Obama looked at the options in front of him, sat down with his political advisers and said you know what? Let's go with a poll-tested tax increase on investment and job creation that won't fix anything and won't pass anyway.

WELNA: It may be true that bringing up the Buffett rule was less about passing it than it was about getting Republicans on thee record voting against it. Democrats feel certain they have a winning issue with the Buffett rule.

A CNN poll released yesterday found 72 percent overall backed the Buffett rule, including a 53 percent majority of Republicans.

Steven Greene, who teaches political science at North Carolina State University says...

STEVEN GREENE: A lot of politics is not trying to change minds, it's trying to make the debate about issues where the public agrees with you, and I think this is a classic example of that.

WELNA: A new online ad out from MoveOn.org ties the Buffett rule to presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who is against it.



UNIDENTIFIED MAN: When the wealthiest 1 percent pay a fair tax rate like the rest of us, it keeps the American dream alive for everyone. So tell Mitt Romney, kittens are cute. One percent fat cats who won't pay their fair share? Eh, not so much.

WELNA: The Obama re-election campaign for its part has unveiled a website that let's people calculate their effective tax rate. It then compares that result to the 13.9 percent rate that Mitt Romney paid last year on an income above $20 million. Thinks that's unfair, reads the tagline? Apply the Buffett rule.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.


NEARY: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna
David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.