Congress set to throw partisan punches over taxes

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 16, 2012 2:05 PM
Congress set to throw partisan punches over taxes

By Kim Dixon

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans square off this week over tax hikes for millionaires and tax cuts for businesses, with both sides seen as more interested in scoring political points than in fixing the tax code or shrinking the deficit.

Although there is little chance of any measure becoming law ahead of the November 6 general election, the skirmishes will give voters a preview of a debate they will hear over the next seven months.

Obama and his fellow Democrats are arguing that raising taxes on the rich will help reduce deficits and bring more fairness to the tax code.

Conservative Republicans in Congress are pushing a much different narrative of more tax cuts - even if they add to deficits - as a way of creating jobs.

As Americans scurry to file tax returns by Tuesday, the U.S. Senate on Monday evening will debate legislation known as the Buffett Rule, which would require households earning more than $1 million to pay at least a 30-percent tax rate.

Central to Obama's "tax fairness" re-election campaign theme, the rule is named after billionaire Warren Buffett, who supports it and famously complains that he pays a lower effective tax rate than his secretary.

Solidly opposed by Republicans who argue raising taxes will hurt the fragile economy, the Buffett Rule bill being offered by Democrats is not expected to clear a procedural vote in the Senate on Monday, as Democrats hold only a slim majority.

"I do think it is an important message for Washington to send to middle-class Americans," said Sheldon Whitehouse, a Senate Democrat sponsoring the legislation. "Even if we come up short, we'll keep pushing this issue all year long."

On Thursday Republicans - in firm control the U.S. House of Representatives - are expected to debate and likely approve a bill to give a one-year, 20-percent tax deduction on business income to owners of businesses with fewer than 500 employees.

Republicans are portraying that tax cut as one for "small businesses," a group they say the Buffett Rule will harm.

Democrats say the legislation will add to already huge budget deficits, since Republicans do not include any measures to offset the $46 billion revenue loss. And they cite studies showing that the tax cut will mainly go to those with incomes over $200,000 a year.

That measure is not likely to make it through the Senate.

The battle over taxes has been escalating for weeks with the White House speaking nearly daily about the Buffett Rule.

The Obama campaign played offense last week by releasing the president's tax returns several days before the deadline, to put pressure on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Obama and his wife paid about 20.5 percent of their income in taxes in 2011, compared to an estimated 15.4 percent rate paid by the Romney's.

Romney, however, has asked for an extension to file his taxes.

(Editing by Xavier Briand)