Buffett Rule Bores, Annoys Washington Post Reporters

The “Buffett rule”–as in Warren Buffett–suggests that super-rich should pay a tax rate comparable to middle-income earners. In Buffett’s case, this grew out of his observation that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.

Seems straightforward enough–and the public thinks so. But the Washington Post seemed to feel otherwise on April 12.

A news story by David Fahrenthold kicked off with this observation:

The great moral debate of the 2012 campaign is turning out to be as inspiring as drunks arguing over a bar tab.


The “debate” he’s talking about pits those who believe in raising tax rates for millionaires against those who think Medicare and Medicaid recipients should pay more–part of Mr. Serious Paul Ryan’s budget plan.

Is that really like drunks arguing over a bar tab? Fahrentold’s real problem, apparently, is that a Buffett rule doesn’t balance the budget: “Even if it passed, the rule would not likely make a serious dent in the country’s deficit.”

As with too much of what passes for political reporting, the real issue is framing and campaign tactics:

Democrats have framed the bill, and its expected defeat, as object lessons about a lack of economic fairness.

This is an extraordinary campaign-season message: Most candidates promise lower taxes. Democrats will promise higher ones. But only–they’ll say–on people who deserve them.

And, for good measure, a bit of “both sides say” balance, as in “Both sides have tried to cast their opponents’ plan as unthinkably harsh.”

I’m still not sure what this has to do with arguing drunks. Meanwhile, Post columnist Dana Milbank (4/11/12) has some things to say about this business of raising taxes on millionaires:

President Obama admits it: His proposed “Buffett Rule” tax on millionaires is a gimmick.

The “gimmick” is, apparently, that raising tax rates for millionaires is “gimmicky and insufficient.” He explains:

Obama’s claim that the Buffett Rule “is something that will get us moving in the right direction toward fairness” would be more convincing if he took other steps in that direction, too.

Well, what would those other steps be? Like other Beltway media figures, Milbank faults Obama for “appointing the Simpson/Bowles commission and then disregarding its findings.”

But there are no such “findings.” The commission’s co-chairs offered a plan of their own, and the commission voted it down.

Milbank says he wants something bigger from Obama. But what exactly? Given his history, what he would seem to mostly want to see is the White House move to the right. When the Progressive Caucus unveiled a budget plan, Milbank red-baited and belittled their efforts.

When White House figures complained about progressive critics, Milbank had their back, complaining that critics of the Afghan War policy should get on board with the escalation.

And Milbank wrote that he was “really proud” of Obama for standing up to “hard-core liberal” Pete DeFazio on tax policy–a welcome relief from the healthcare debate, which to Milbank was doomed by Obama’s decision to give the left wing of the party too much control.

It’s hard to believe that Milbank and others like him are really bothered by gimmicks–it’s this particular policy–raising taxes on the wealthy–that they don’t care for.

Milbank writes:

The populist Buffett Rule polls well. This explains its inclusion in countless presidential speeches and statements. White House reporters, tiring of the theme, have proposed a Jimmy Buffett Rule (three-drink minimum) and a Buffet Rule (Newt Gingrich would be an obvious candidate).

Sorry to hear that reporters are so tired of covering tax policy and income inequality.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.