WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans last week blocked an effort by Democrats to increase income tax rates on the nation’s highest earners.
The Senate voted 51-45 on a procedural motion to advance what Democrats called the “Buffett Rule,” falling nine short of what they needed to move the legislation forward.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins was the only Republican to support the bill that said people with income above $2 million annually should pay at least 30 percent in taxes.
Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, the only Democrat to oppose the bill, chided his party for engaging in a “political ploy meant to score points.” Democrats this year have promoted “tax fairness” as an issue they say separates them from Republicans.
The Buffett Rule is named after Nebraska billionaire Warren Buffett, who has said it is unfair for his secretary to pay higher rates than he does simply because of loopholes available to the wealthy.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., who proposed the bill, said loopholes and tax gimmicks allowed those earning an average of $270 million in 2008 to pay 18.2 percent on their adjusted gross income — the same rate as those earning $39,350.
“That is just not fair, not right, and that is not the progressive tax system we have always had,” Whitehouse said.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who was budget director under President George W. Bush, argued against the bill, saying it did not offer serious tax reforms and would create no new jobs.
“I think the Buffett Rule is bad economics, I think it is bad fiscal policy, and I think it is a distraction from the broader bipartisan effort underway to achieve fundamental tax reform that is necessary to unleash a true economic recovery,” Portman said.
Pryor and Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., voted against the Buffett Rule.
House backs business tax break
The House, along largely partisan lines, passed a one-time tax break of as much as 20 percent for businesses that employ fewer than 500 people.
Republican proponents said the bill would provide as much as $46 billion to small businesses that could be used to hire more workers. Democratic opponents complained that most of the windfall would go to wealthy businesses without offering any guarantee of new jobs.
“Seven out of 10 jobs in this country over the last 20 years have come from small businesses. If we create an environment where they can grow and succeed, more people are going to find work, and that’s what this is all about,” said Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash.
Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., called the proposal “Bush tax cuts on steroids,” saying that nearly $23 billion would go to people with incomes over $1 million.
The bill, which the Senate is not expected to consider, cleared the House, 235-173.
Reps. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, Mike Ross, D-Prescott, and Steve Womack, R-Rogers, voted for the bill.
House approves import of polar bear trophies
The House passed a pro-hunting bill that would allow a handful of Americans who legally hunted polar bears in Canada to bring their trophies home.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed polar bears as a threatened species in May 2008, which immediately blocked importation of polar bear trophies into the United States including 41 killed in legal hunts in Canada.
Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., proposed stripping the polar bear provision from the bill. He argued that the hunters were warned in advance that they would be blocked from importing the trophies once polar bears — as anticipated — were listed as threatened.
“While it is too late to save these bears, passing this bill creates a perverse incentive for trophy hunters to rush to hunt any species soon to be protected … because their friends in Congress will simply bail them out after the fact,” Peters said.
Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said hunters should be able to import trophies that were legally killed before the species listing.
The House voted, 262-155, to keep the trophy provision in the hunting bill. The legislation also included measures to encourage federal land managers to support hunting and fishing. The Bureau of Land Management, for example, could only restrict recreational shooting for specific reasons such as national security and fire safety.
Crawford, Griffin, Ross and Womack voted to allow the trophies to be imported.