Buffett Rule proposal just a modern bill of attainder for Romney?

Buffett Rule proposal just a modern bill of attainder for Romney?

Next week, the Senate will vote on the Buffett Rule, President Obama’s class-warfare bid to punish the wealthy under the guide of paying their “fair share” in taxes.  Never mind that the top one percent already pay a much higher median effective tax rate at 29.6%, as the President’s own economists noted this year, more than double that of midrange earners’ 13.3%.  Never mind that the predicted revenue of the Buffett Rule would produce $4 billion a year in revenue, which represents about 0.44% of next year’s deficit but could be used in the private sector to generate innovation and expansion.  The Senate and the President want to punish a very small group of Americans, perhaps no more than 400 households, for their success.

At one time, we had an aversion to punishing people through legislative action, an aversion so strong that the Constitution bars both federal and state legislatures from considering bills of attainder.  As I explain in my column for The Fiscal Times today, that’s what this looks like, aimed ostensibly at 400 households but politically at just one:

Obama and his allies insist that the actual revenue and deficit reduction matter less than the fairness, but neither matters as much as having a class-warfare club to swing at Mitt Romney in the fall.  Bernie Becker at The Hill stated the obvious when he reported that the White House wanted to “hammer” Romney with the Buffett Rule proposal, pointing out that Romney only paid an effective tax rate of 14 percent on tax returns he released this winter during the nomination fight.

Democrats in Congress want to push this bill as a means to punish Romney for his wealth, politically in this case rather than legally, since the bill has zero chance of passing into law.  It’s a naked attempt to use Congress to attack and damage the likely challenger to the incumbent President.

In 1788 James Madison, one of the framers of our government, warned about Congressional attempts to issue political and legal punishments. He said, “Bills of attainder, ex post facto laws, and laws impairing the obligations of contracts, are contrary to the first principles of the social compact, and to every principle of sound legislation. … The sober … have seen with regret and indignation that sudden changes and legislative interferences, in cases affecting personal rights, become jobs in the hands of enterprising and influential speculators, and snares to the more-industrious and less-informed part of the community.”

Perhaps we should start paying attention to the Constitution.

The bill won’t pass in the Senate, and it doesn’t have a prayer of even coming to the floor in the House.  It’s simply a gimmick to provide Obama a way to demonize Romney as a rich fat cat for the November election.  How well is it working?  Dana Milbank, who’s definitely in the target audience, sounds singularly unimpressed:

Actually, the gimmick was apparent even without the president’s acknowledgment. He gave his remarks in a room in the White House complex adorned with campaign-style photos of his factory tours. On stage with him were eight props: four millionaires, each paired with a middle-class assistant. The octet smiled and nodded so much as Obama made his case that it appeared the president was sharing the stage with eight bobbleheads.

And if that’s not enough evidence of gimmickry, after his speech Obama’s reelection campaign unveiled an online tax calculator “to see how your tax rate stacks up against Mitt Romney’s — and then see what the Buffett Rule would do.” …

The politics of the Buffett Rule — it has no chance of passing when the Senate takes it up next week — are so overt that Obama’s remarks Wednesday were virtually indistinguishable from a section of his campaign speech in Florida on Tuesday.

Having the Senate push through an Obama campaign strategy document for a floor vote as a way to throw mud at his political opponent has to be one of the most cynical uses of power in modern Beltway times — especially since the Senate hasn’t bothered to pass a budget resolution in three years.  Instead of fretting over the budgets of 400 families, shouldn’t the Senate be focusing on the nation’s budget, a responsibility assigned to them by law?

Update: Sorry for the typo; that should have been 29.6%, not 296.6%.

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