The twins, Nancy and Michelle, are now old enough to have their own nook in Árbol Squirrel. And they’re old enough to argue over who should clean it. Don’t even ask why they don’t agree on the obvious answer: that they both should. I could try to explain their reasons, but we don’t have that much time. The short version is that each thinks the other makes more of a mess and should do more of the cleanup. “It won’t even matter,” Nancy said with a heavy sigh. “It’ll just get messy again.”
Michelle agreed on that point. In other words, they’re almost old enough to be pundits.
This week the Senate will debate the Buffett Rule that President Obama proposed to ensure millionaires and billionaires pay a higher tax rate than working class Americans. Senate Republicans have already promised to filibuster the bill, and they have enough votes to sustain the filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could invoke the Byrd Rule that allows the Senate to pass budget-related bills with only 51 votes, but that would require the bill to include a sunset provision and automatically expire unless renewed. Using the Byrd Rule would also touch off a partisan firestorm for no practical payoff, as the Buffett Rule has zero chance of passing the Republican-controlled House. So the Buffett Rule bill will fail in the Senate.
And good riddance, according to pundits. The Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank is typical of the chattering class, calling the Buffett Rule a gimmick because it wouldn’t come close to balancing the federal budget. POLITICO‘s Jim VandeHei made the same argument last week on MSNBC, as did the U.S. News & World Report‘s Rick Newman yesterday on the Melissa Harris-Perry show. The Buffett Rule is not a silver bullet, the pundits agree.
If I were starting yet another media fact-checking site – I might call the site BippieFact, or maybe NuttiFact – I would rate their argument True And Irrelevant. It’s true that the Buffett Rule would not solve the budget deficit. And that’s irrelevant, because it wasn’t proposed to solve the budget deficit.
The Buffett Rule is about the trust deficit. Last September, a CNN/Opinion Research poll showed Americans’ trust in government at an all-time low. Only 15% of those surveyed said they trust government to do the right thing “just about always or most of the time.” That’s down from 25% a year earlier.
I don’t blame them. Consider that a Gallup poll last week found 60% of Americans support the Buffett Rule, yet it has zero chance to become law. If acting on the will of a solid majority is doing the right thing in our representative system, then failing to pass the Buffett Rule shows government will not do the right thing “just about always or most of the time.”
But the trust deficit goes beyond this one bill. Most Americans know we have a federal budget deficit. Many are also filing their tax returns today, and most are probably grumpy about doing that. No one likes to pay taxes, and almost no one is willing to pay more in taxes if they think the richest Americans aren’t paying enough. When teachers and truck drivers and secretaries and retail clerks see they pay higher tax rates than Warren Buffett, President Obama, or Mitt Romney – and they do – they wonder why they should have to pay more to balance the budget … and why services they need should be cut to allow more tax cuts for Warren Buffett, President Obama, and Mitt Romney.
Republicans say Americans need to “tighten their belts.”
The widespread support for the Buffett Rule is Americans saying “You first.”
When Americans see the rich getting richer even during the Great Recession, that response makes perfect sense. Given the trend of the past 30 years, working class Americans would be foolish to trust that tightening own belts to give more tax cuts to the rich will eventually work out for everyone. The wealthy lost Americans’ trust, and deservedly so. If ordinary families have to make sacrifices, they want to see the rich make sacrifices too … and see the rich make sacrifices first.
The Buffett Rule won’t fix the budget deficit, but it will help fix the trust deficit. And that’s no gimmick.
Good day and good nuts.