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Tax debate set as Congress returns

WASHINGTON — Democrats and Republicans are forcing votes in Congress this week on competing tax plans that affect millionaires and smaller businesses, and they know the proposals likely are doomed from the start.

But that doesn't matter to either party.

Their efforts, including a Senate vote today on President Barack Obama's "Buffett Rule" proposal to impose a minimum tax on the wealthiest Americans, appear more about pontificating than legislating, aimed at voters in November's congressional and presidential elections.

Neutral economists say neither bill would do much for the economy or job creation.

Congressional leaders hope to maximize public attention by timing both roll calls with an eye to Tuesday, the annual deadline for filing income taxes with the Internal Revenue Service. The votes probably are just a start.

Senate Democrats later this year may hold additional votes tied to the Buffett Rule, using the idea of a minimum 30 percent tax on top earners to raise money for proposals to create jobs and keep student loan rates from rising.

The Buffett Rule is nicknamed for billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who backs higher taxes on the rich.

With trillions in tax cuts dating from President George W. Bush set to expire in January, House and Senate leaders also are considering campaign-season votes on extending popular parts of those reductions, such as preventing the $1,000 child tax credit from being cut in half.

Today, as Congress returns from a two-week spring break, the Democratic-led Senate expects votes on a measure by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., that would place a minimum 30 percent income tax on people making over $2 million yearly and phase in higher taxes for those earning at least $1 million. Republicans are sure to block the bill.

Democrats think the Buffett Rule vote will underscore their commitment to economic fairness and GOP favoritism for the rich, a prominent election theme.

"It's simple. If you make more than $1 million every year, you should pay at least the same percentage of your income in taxes as middle-class families do," Obama said Saturday in his weekly broadcast address.

The GOP-run House plans a Thursday vote on legislation providing a 20 percent tax deduction for businesses that employ fewer than 500 workers, which covers 99.9 percent of all companies. The proposal, sponsored by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., seems certain to pass, but fail in the Senate.

Republicans believe it will spotlight their efforts to cut taxes and create jobs, contrasted with Democrats' preference for higher taxes to finance larger government. They believe they win the debate by keeping the focus on those subjects, not what the wealthy pay. "We want small-business people to have more money go to their pockets, not the government's," Cantor said recently at a Virginia high school.

Tax debate set as Congress returns 04/15/12 [Last modified: Sunday, April 15, 2012 10:59pm]
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