Paying a Fair Share or the Buffett Rule

I’ve gotten several email recently from the President, from Elizabeth Warren and from other progressive organizations about the Senate vote on the Buffett rule.  Since I’m pretty sure that Senator John Kerry will vote for the bill and Senator Scott Brown will vote against it, I haven’t called, emailed or written either of them about it.

I have, however,  wondered what the bill actually does.  So thank you to Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog in the Washington Post this morning for his explanation.  The big vote everyone is talking about is actually a bill introduced by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island.  He explained the bill to Ezra who explains it to us.

In other words: The “Paying a Fair Share Act” doesn’t mean someone making $1,500,000 will pay at least the same percentage of his income in taxes as the average middle-class family. It means he would pay a somewhat higher marginal rate on the income he earns over $1 million — in this case, on the excess $500,000.

Moreover, that higher marginal rate would only reach 30 percent on income over $2 million. Between $1 million and $2 million, the Buffett rule phases in so as to avoid a sharp “tax cliff” at the million-dollar mark.

But would it still raise money to help ease the deficit?

Another misconception: The proposal doesn’t raise $47 billion over 10 years. Or, rather, it does, but only if you use the “current law baseline” that assumes the full expiration of the Bush tax cuts. No one really uses that baseline. If you look at Paul Ryan’s budget, for instance, its appendix tables use a “current policy baseline,” which assumes, among other things, that the Bush tax cuts are extended.

Compared with that baseline, the Paying a Fair Share Act actually raises about $160 billion. Still not enough to solve our deficit problems on its own, but nothing to sneeze at.

So as usual it is a little more complicated than the President makes it sound, but still a good thing to support.



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