For the better part of the past three decades the Republican Party has promoted itself as the party of tax cuts. What happens, though, when Republicans filibuster legislation that would ensure that as many as 50 million Americans don't get caught in the net of the Alternative Minimum Tax, which was originally designed to ensure that the wealthiest among us weren't able to get out of paying federal income taxes? That might not be the way the media is framing this story -- or even how the Democrats are, for that matter -- but that question comes at the heart of the debate over how to deal with the AMT this session of Congress. Edmund L. Andrews reports.
Senate Democrats face an agonizing choice in the days ahead: find a way to raise at least $50 billion in new taxes, or undermine their most important rule for enforcing budget discipline.
With the end of the year fast approaching, Congress has to pass another one-year fix to prevent the alternative minimum tax -- a tax originally created to make sure millionaires paid income taxes -- from engulfing about 23 million households with incomes as low as $50,000.
Democrats and Republicans alike want to prevent that increase, just as they have in the past, but the one-year cost has ballooned and Democratic "pay as you go" rules now require Congress to make up for the lost revenue.
On Thursday, the House Ways and Means Committee approved a $76 billion bill that would freeze the alternative minimum tax, extend several other tax breaks and pay for that mainly by eliminating a major tax break for people who run private equity funds and scores of other investment partnerships.
But Senate Democrats are less than enthusiastic about that tax increase, and they worry that they cannot muster the 60-vote majority they will need to pass any measure that would comply with the pay-as-you-go rule. [empphasis added]
First of all, shame on Andrews for calling Charlie Rangel's AMT legislation a "tax increase." It is not a tax increase. Not whatsoever. The measure being forwarded in the House by Ways and Means chairman Rangel is a tax reform, one intended to be revenue neutral. While some will see their tax liabilities go up, others -- in fact many others -- will see their tax liabilities go down. In the aggregate, there will be no increase in the amount of taxes being paid by the American people. Ronald Reagan, along with the Democratic House and the Republican Senate, passed tax reform legislation in 1986 that cut taxes for some and raised taxes for other. That measure was not deemed a "tax increase" -- and neither should Rangel's bill.
Leaving aside that shoddy word usage by Andrews, if the Democrats want to have any success on this issue, they're going to have to begin talking about it in a cogent way. This means calling out the Republicans for threatening to filibuster legislation that would ensure that 23 million households don't all of the sudden find themselves subject to a tax initially aimed at the extremely conniving wealthy. That's exactly what Republicans are doing -- threatening to filibuster a reasonable tax reform bill that would save billions for millions of Americans because of their extremist ideology, on the basis of which they are unwilling to pay for pay for today through offsets rather than tomorrow through borrowing.
This is how this issue should be framed. Andrews says it, though not emphatically: "Republicans [are] insisting on 60 votes to limit debate," which is another way of saying they are filibustering the legislation. Now I'm under no delusion that this is necessarily the way this issue is going to play out. But if the Democrats want to win, they're going to have to play hardball -- and in this case that means beating the Republicans at their own game.