The Buffett Rule vs. The Romney Rule
With President Obama heading to Florida for a 2:55 ET speech making the case for the Buffett Rule and with the Obama campaign hammering Mitt Romney because he "is a beneficiary of a broken tax system, and he wants to keep it that way," a reporter posed the following question (my emphasis):
Against that backdrop, the potential political appeal of the Buffett Rule is such that a reporter on the White House conference call asked administration officials why they did not call it the Romney Rule. Mr. Obama first proposed the rule last September, but he and his advisers — both in the White House and the Chicago campaign headquarters — have lately begun emphasizing it anew as they mobilize for the expected race against Mr. Romney.
It's a reasonable question, given the obvious political implications of focusing attention on the unfairness of Mitt Romney paying a minuscule 15 percent tax rate on his $21 million of income while people earning a fraction of Romney's income pay a much higher rate.
But the answer to the question is as obvious as the politics of the issue: President Obama's proposal isn't called the Romney Rule because the Romney Rule is the policy he's seeking to replace. (I first saw it called the Romney Rule on Greg Sargent's blog, who in turn gave Paul Begala credit.) The Romney Rule says certain "lucky ducky" high income taxpayers don't have to pay the same rates that everyone else pays, even though they are effectively earning ordinary income. The Romney Rule says Mitt Romney should get special preferential treatment, and that the benefits of that preferential treatment will trickle down to everyone else. The Romney Rule is what Mitt Romney and the Republican Party want to keep in place.
The Buffett Rule is the proposition that the Romney Rule is unfair: that there shouldn't be a special class of lucky duckies like Mitt Romney, able to pay lower taxes than their secretaries. And while it's true this is a political issue, it's not entirely about electoral politics. Yes, the Buffett Rule would only generate about $47 billion over ten years. It's nowhere near enough to deal with our long-term revenue challenges, but we have to start somewhere. We need to break through the Republican obstruction and Democratic cowardice to confront the unfairness and inadequacy of the tax code. Passing the Buffett Rule wouldn't mean that our mission was accomplished, but it would at least be the first sign of meaningful progress since 1993.