With tax season approaching — and only two legislative weeks before the Easter recess — Senate Democratic leaders are preparing to pivot to tax issues and are considering a push to repeal oil and gas subsidies before the end of the month, Democratic leadership aides said Monday.
At the same time, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) this week will begin rolling out a key small-business tax plan that was part of the GOP's Pledge to America in 2010.
The Senate measure would likely redirect the revenue to fund clean energy initiatives. However, a decision to take up the proposal this month has not yet been made.
Although long sought by Democrats, the decision to pursue the elimination of the subsidies is largely a political move. Republicans are expected to oppose repealing the energy subsidies because they argue that it would be passed on to consumers.
As for Democrats' other high-profile tax proposals — designed to highlight tax inequality — nothing is expected to come to the Senate floor until at least the week of April 16, when tax returns are due, the aide said.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said earlier this month that Senate Democratic leaders expect to take up legislation soon that would include the "Buffett Rule," named for billionaire Warren Buffett, who has argued that the tax system benefits the wealthy.
"We're considering our options," the Senate Democratic aide said.
"It's another opportunity to remind Americans that Republicans want to lower taxes on the wealthy and raise them on hardworking, middle-class citizens," the aide said.
One possible measure that could come to the floor is a proposal introduced last month by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) that would require millionaires to pay at least a 30 percent tax rate.
Republicans argue that the measure would be a jobs killer because it would raise taxes on small-business owners who tend to file their businesses taxes as part of their income.
"In a difficult economy with so many people unemployed and with so many people struggling to fill their gas tanks, the last thing they need is another tax hike from the Democrats," a Senate GOP aide said.
Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) last year offered a proposal that included a millionaire's surtax that would exempt small businesses, but it is unclear whether that will be part of any Buffett Rule legislation Senate Democratic leaders move.
The Buffett Rule is meant to ensure that upper-income earners pay similar overall tax rates as middle-class Americans. Wealthy earners typically pay a lower tax rate on investments than those whose tax burden is primarily derived from wages. The issue remains a priority for Democrats and will be one of their major platforms as they make their case to retain the White House and the majority in the Senate.
Democrats believe upper-income earners have been the beneficiaries of tax policies — implemented by Republicans — that help the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.
On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney tied the GOP's opposition to eliminating the oil and gas subsidies to Democrats' broader attacks on Republican tax policy.
"What we don't need is another proposal that says we have to preserve and extend tax cuts for the very wealthiest of Americans, who have done extremely well in the last decade; we have to preserve tax subsidies and breaks for oil and gas companies that are enjoying record profits, subsidies that have been in place for a century. That's taxpayers giving money to oil and gas companies, oil and gas companies making record profits," Carney said.
"I mean ... I think that's a tough sell. But we'll see," he added.
Meanwhile, in the House, Cantor this week is expected to begin the process of rolling out his small-business tax cut proposal.
Aimed at businesses with fewer than 500 employees, the legislation would provide a temporary tax cut to qualifying small businesses and would not include exemptions for companies like sports franchises.
Cantor's decision to pursue the small-business tax cut bill, which would create a 20 percent tax cut to small businesses regardless of how they file, comes despite Democratic opposition to the measure. Democrats have charged the legislation would be a windfall for sports teams and hedge funds, which qualify under federal rules as small businesses because they have fewer than 500 employees.
"With the economy in recovery, we need to work together to ensure small businesses gain momentum and start hiring again. Leader Cantor's small-business tax cut gives every small business a 20 percent tax cut that will go straight to the bottom line. This tax cut puts money back into the hands of small-business owners so they can invest in their businesses and hire new employees," a spokeswoman for Cantor's office said Monday.