Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) doesn’t like to stray off message — and she’s found one in the “Buffett Rule” that she thinks she can really hold on to.
Baldwin is the House champion of the Buffett Rule legislation, which would impose a tax on individuals making more than $1 million. She is also the Democratic candidate for Senate in Wisconsin, a politically charged state looking to recall its Republican governor and a crucial seat for the Democrats’ hold on the Senate majority.
And while it remains to be seen how well the Buffett Rule message will play in Wisconsin, sources say Baldwin’s attachment to the issue demonstrates her savvy about Washington politics. By latching on to a bill being championed by President Barack Obama’s campaign and Senate Democrats, Baldwin has thrust herself further into the national spotlight. And she’s done it at a time when almost all of the Badger State’s political oxygen is being consumed by Democrats’ efforts to recall GOP Gov. Scott Walker.
“One of the reasons why everyone is so engaged in this is that they’re paying their taxes right now,” Baldwin said in a phone interview between campaign stops at Wisconsin college campuses.
Pressed repeatedly on how the politics of the state is playing into her tax fairness push, Baldwin would not move beyond the Tax Day message, one that also is being pushed especially hard by Senate Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) has scheduled a vote today on the Buffett Rule bill because Democrats wanted to move on the legislation as close to the April 17 income tax filing deadline as possible. The bill is not expected to get the 60 votes necessary to advance on the floor, but Democrats hope to use the issue as a bludgeon this fall against Republicans — and presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Typically, leadership assigns in-cycle Members to bills it thinks make good political points in order to draw attention to the issue and the lawmaker. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), for example, was the chief sponsor of the payroll tax cut bill earlier this year, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) is the Senate sponsor of the Buffett Rule legislation. Both are facing re-election this year.
But House and Senate leadership sources indicated that Baldwin pursued the issue on her own.
“She legitimately picked it up like Senate Democrats did,” one senior Senate Democratic aide said. “Does it have political benefit to her? Of course it does. Having said that, the fact that she has been out front leading on an important issue to the president and the party, I think, is a good thing for her and a good thing for us, both on policy and politics.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.