PORTLAND, Maine — Representatives of the Maine League of Young Voters demonstrated near Canal Plaza in Portland on Monday, urging the state’s two U.S. senators to embrace the “Buffett Rule,” which would impose higher taxes on America’s millionaires.
The Buffett Rule is named for billionaire Warren Buffett, who has become a vocal advocate for higher taxes on the rich. The measure would increase taxes on Americans earning more than $1 million annually and place a 30 percent minimum on those earning more than $2 million a year.
The Maine League of Young Voters, which boasts a mailing list of nearly 5,500 members, came down strongly in favor of the Buffett Rule with its midday event on Monday.
That came nearly five hours before the Senate voted 51-45 against moving the rule another step down the congressional conveyor belt toward passage. But the consolation for league members may be that one of the two senators they targeted, Sen. Susan Collins, was the only Republican in the chamber to vote in favor Monday night.
“We feel our economy and tax laws are tilted in favor of those with political connections and great wealth,” said Wells Lyons, vice chairman of the league’s steering committee. “Those who can make large campaign contributions get tax laws written in their favor.”
League volunteer Sarah Schindler said Monday she is disheartened by the cap on capital gains taxes at 15 percent, arguing that holding taxes low on earnings from investments gives the upper hand to those who can afford to trade stocks or commodities. Comparatively, she said, “all of my taxes come out of my income.”
“I do believe in the redistributive property of taxation,” Schindler said.
Estimates on how much additional federal revenue would be generated by the Buffett Rule have varied. The congressional Joint Committee on Taxation asserted that the rule would generate $4.67 billion more annually, while the pro-Buffett Rule organization Citizens for Tax Justice has touted a $50 billion yearly revenue boost.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky are among the rule’s vocal opponents, arguing among other things the proposal is an effort to incite class warfare and could choke investments vital to business lending and job creation.
In voting against moving the rule forward Monday night, Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, called the Buffett Rule proposition a “superficial approach to a fundamental issue.” She said her opposition “has nothing to do with protecting millionaires” and called for comprehensive tax reform developed through a bipartisan effort.
“It is long past time we undertake comprehensive, rather than piecemeal, tax reform — something I have been calling on the President and Treasury Secretary Geithner to focus on for over three years now because it is essential to growing our economy and creating new jobs,” Snowe said in a statement Monday night. “Instead, we have wasted precious time in the life of America and, as a result, haven’t experienced a robust economic rebound because this is the worst post-recession recovery in our history.”
In a letter addressed to Snowe that Lyons brought to the Monday demonstration, not far from the offices for Snowe and Collins in Canal Plaza, he blasted the argument “that the wealthiest ‘job creators’ need low tax rates to employ the rest of us.”
“The mantra that tax cuts for the rich create jobs for working Americans is simply not supported by the economic data,” Lyons wrote in the letter to Snowe. “After you voted in 2001 for the first round of the Bush tax cuts, there was no surge in job opportunities. In fact, we saw the slowest job growth in 50 years, and the income of the average American family fell.”
Collins voted in favor of the Buffett Rule legislation to spur discussion of tax reform, but said President Barack Obama’s Buffett Rule is “not a serious starting point.”
“I believe we should be debating comprehensive tax reform aimed at creating a simpler, fairer, pro-growth tax code. Such reform should lower rates for job creators and middle-income Americans, while increasing the share of taxes paid by the wealthy,” Collins said in a statement. “A key to reform is simplification: just last year, according to the IRS, there were 579 changes to a tax code that is already more than 65,000 pages long. No one can keep up such complexity — it hobbles our economy, and exasperates the American taxpayer.”