That’s the one question about the present push for the “Buffett Rule” that President Obama can’t answer – at least not without exposing his own proposal as the shabbiest, sleaziest sort of partisan posing.
If the president cared sincerely about “tax fairness,” or the importance of millionaires paying a “proper” percentage of their income to the government, then why did he do nothing to address these issues during his first three years in the White House? This challenge applies with special force to the two years 2009 and 2010, when Barack Obama enjoyed overwhelming Democratic majorities in both House and Senate. Had he suggested the Buffett Rule in, say, April of 2010, the Hope-and-Change intoxicated Congress of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid would have passed it without delay, claiming at least partial progress in fulfilling Obama’s often-repeated campaign promise to raise taxes on the rich.
But the president never fought for anything like the Buffett Rule when he easily could have prevailed in the battle, so what changed in the intervening months to make a tax adjustment they never even debated two years ago seem suddenly urgent and important?
Of course the Republicans won sweeping victories in November 2010, and that dramatically altered the political climate in the Capitol. But since Big Bad Boehner rode to power, his GOP Wild Bunch failed to make any major changes in the tax code, and enacted no new breaks or giveaways for millionaires. The same favorable treatment of investment income, the same exemptions and deductions and tax dodges that so offend the president in 2012 existed in all their glory when he first came to office in January 2009. The president can blame the new Republican majority for blocking many of his more ambitious spending initiatives but he can hardly blame them for the sorry state of a disastrously dysfunctional tax code that’s remained largely unaltered in the Obama era.
If anything, the tax system looks less favorably on the rich than it did when this president took power; he’s not only introduced new levies on the prosperous as part of Obamacare, but proudly passed a two year payroll tax reduction that saves 2 percent on all income below $108,000. The Democrats can hardly explain their new-found enthusiasm for a minimum tax rate on high earners by claiming that the administration they ardently admired presided over a shift in a less progressive direction.