Columns

Heritage: Losing on Health Care, Obama Shifts Subject to 'Buffett Rule'

By: J.D. Foster | Posted: April 14, 2012 3:55 AM
J.D. Foster

J.D. Foster

What do you do when you’re losing a debate? Change the subject. That’s really all you need to know to understand President Obama’s resuscitation of his infamous “Buffett Rule” that would impose a minimum 30 percent effective tax rate on businesses and families earning $1 million.

The Supreme Court gave Obamacare a nasty audition two weeks ago, leaving even staunch defenders of the law grasping for straws while the former constitutional law professor now in the White House outrageously flailed at the court for doing exactly what the Constitution intends. So what is the president’s response? Change the subject, of course.

After releasing a non-budget that completely ignored the nation’s near-term, medium-term, and long-term fiscal plight -- an extraordinary trifecta not easily achieved -- the president tried to take the House Republicans to task for their proposed real solutions on all three. Nothing highlights irresponsibility like responsible behavior, and so Mr. Obama found sharp rhetoric and a frowning visage to be thin gruel when you’ve no policies of your own. Response? Change the subject.

Soaring gas prices have put enormous strains on family budgets and business plans. The president might deflect some of the resulting popular anger if he actually had an energy policy that might produce more energy. Instead, his policies have produced only more examples of why government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers (Solyndra). When your most notable policies relating to gas prices are to kill a major oil pipeline such as Keystone, propose algae as an energy source and seek to raise taxes on oil companies, you’ve nowhere to hide. Response? Change the subject.

Then came last Friday’s jobs report, which was universally acknowledged as disappointing: job growth cut in half from the modest levels of previous months, and an unemployment rate that fell only because thousands of Americans just gave up looking. If Washington had merely left the economy to heal itself, performance today would have been much stronger and unemployment markedly lower. Instead, almost everything this administration has tried has failed noticeably, and voters have noticed. Response? Change the subject.

With nowhere else to go, Mr. Obama has fallen back to his most comfortable setting -- class warfare. Now that it is painfully obvious the “Buffett Rule” is the president’s chief policy priority and the centerpiece of his re-election campaign, it is fair to ask, what would the policy do to address any of the nation’s problems?

The answer is: absolutely nothing.

Strengthen the economy? No, when it comes to economic growth, the Buffett Rule would weaken the economy. The tax would fall most heavily on job creators, such as businesses that pay their taxes through the individual income tax, investors and entrepreneurs. The higher levy would confiscate from them resources they would otherwise use to start new businesses, grow existing businesses, and hire more workers. This will slow economic growth, job creation, and wage increases.

Reduce the budget deficits? More like “budget pixie dust,” in the words of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. According to a recent analysis by the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, the Buffett Rule would raise $47 billion over 10 years. And that assumes no negative economic effects, which are certain and are certain to reduce the revenues gained. For perspective, during that period President Obama’s budget calls for adding $6.7 trillion to the national debt. The Buffett Rule would reduce the increase in debt in Obama’s budget by about one-half of 1 percent. No joke.

The Buffett Rule debate is desperate political prestidigitation. The president is losing the fight over Obamacare, which remains intensely unpopular. Gas prices show no sign of descending. The economy at best is middling. And the nation is looking for answers on the budget, and the president has none. He needed a change of subject. For Mr. Obama, what better time for a distracting, divisive fight over fairness?

When a president refuses to address the issues the country cares about, people tune out. Mr. Obama’s fairness fight is likely to fare about as well as the rest of his policies.



J.D. Foster is the Norman B. Ture Senior Fellow in the Economics of Fiscal Policy at the Heritage Foundation. Co-author Curtis Dubay is a senior policy analyst at Heritage, where he specializes in tax issues.

Tags: News, Columns

Comments (1)

Post American
7:37AM APR 15TH 2012
Uh, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is based off Republican ideas, including the Heritage Foundation! Its not socialism, not at all. Gas prices are going down. The economy is better then it was in 2008, we aren't losing a million jobs a month. And tax cuts for the rich, don't spur the economy. Tax rates are the lowest since Eisenhower! You just have to feel sorry for the Grand Old White Party!

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