Brian Darling

Liberals in Congress are having a tough time bringing their beloved “Buffett Rule” to a vote. That’s the gimmicky proposal which purports to “sock it to” millionaires who allegedly aren’t paying their fair share in taxes.

Class warriors of the Left yearn to force a vote on the measure, but they face two substantial obstacles: the Constitution and a GOP-controlled House of Representatives.

House leadership won’t let the bill come to the floor for a vote. And since no bill gets to the President’s desk without the approval of both chambers of Congress, that would seem to be the end of the matter. But it isn’t.

Instead, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has taken it upon himself to schedule a vote this week on a motion to proceed to a Senate version of the Buffett Rule. According to the Constitution, the Senate can’t initiate anything like the Buffett Rule. The measure is designed to tap an extra $45 billion from the wealthy. In other words, it’s a revenue raiser. Period.

Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution states, “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.” But why should Sen. Reid feel constrained by a little thing like a constitutional proscription against what he wants to do?

The Senate proposal to implement the Buffett Rule is S. 2230, aka the Paying a Fair Share Act of 2012. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) introduced it, with the backing of socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and 12 other Upper Chamber liberals. They know as well as Sen. Reid that originating this proposal in the Senate is flatly unconstitutional, but they’re okay with that.

How can this be so? The only reasonable explanation is that they know the bill will never pass muster in the House, so there’s no chance of it becoming law. No law, no problem.

Why go through the charade at all, then? Because in the eyes of a class warrior, the Buffett rule makes for great political theater. If your base includes the Occupy crowd and their sympathizers, nothing gets ‘em wound up like abunch of overheated floor speeches urging their political opponents to stop cozying up to the Fat Cats and start soaking the rich.

President Obama is doing his bit to make sure the American people believe the Senate vote is meaningful. Last Wednesday at the White House, he took to the bully pulpit to announce:

Now, next week, members of Congress are going to have a chance to vote on what we call the Buffett Rule. And it’s simple: If you make more money -- more than $1 million a year, not if you have $1 million, but if you make more than $1 million a year, you should pay at least the same percentage of your income in taxes as middle-class families do. If on the other hand, you make less than $250,000 a year -- like 98 percent of American families do -- your taxes shouldn’t go up.

One would think a former constitutional law professor would understand that this vote is pure political grandstanding. But perhaps the president thinks the American people aren’t smart enough to figure that out.

So, what happens if the Senate does pass the Whitehouse bill, as is? The House would be expected to Blue Slip it under the authority of Article 1, Section 7. A Blue Slip is the term used for the House objecting to a Senate bill for being a revenue measure. The House has Blue-Slipped numerous Senate-passed bills in the past. It doesn’t even require a vote.

Now, there are ways to get around this constitutional bar to tax measures originating in the Senate. One commonly used method is to take up a House passed tax bill, any House passed tax bill, and then use the Senate bill as a complete substitute. But Sen. Reid (D-NV) does not appear to be interested in making a serious run at getting this turkey passed.

What’s important to the liberals is the political theater, not the policy. They’re not really serious about passing the Buffet rule. They are only interested in using a Senate vote to create a talking point for the Obama-Biden 2012 campaign team.


Brian Darling

Brian Darling is a Senior Fellow in Government Studies at the Heritage Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @BrianHDarling