Some wealthy Republican and Democratic lawmakers agree that the tax code is skewed toward them, but the two camps remain at odds over whether they should shoulder the burden for fixing the nation's financial woes.
"I am unapologetic in saying we, who make a large income ... should be paying their fair share," said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), whose estimated wealth is at least $220 million and who is the second-most-affluent Member of Congress on Roll Call's annual 50 Richest list.
Rep. Scott Rigell agreed with Issa, but he said the answer is tax code reform, not singling out the wealthy for new taxes as Democrats and the president have suggested.
"To the extent that there are loopholes, or provisions, that are available to some taxpayers and not to others, I have a real problem with that," said the Virginia Republican, whose minimum net worth is nearly $11 million. "I [hope] that Congress, both parties, can come together and simplify our tax code. That is an effort that every one of us must embrace regardless of political party affiliation."
Issa, who made his fortune in the car alarm business, and Rigell, who owns a group of car dealerships with his wife, are two of 12 lawmakers — six Democrats and six Republicans — on Roll Call's 50 Richest list who would likely be hit by the "Buffett Rule," according to an analysis of their financial disclosure forms for the 2010 tax year.
Named for billionaire investor Warren Buffett, President Barack Obama's proposed Buffett Rule holds that individuals making more than $1 million a year should pay at least the same percentage of their earnings as middle-income taxpayers. The Buffett Rule would hit millionaires who get a large percentage of their income from capital gains and dividends. That's because investment income is typically taxed at a lower rate — 15 percent — than what many middle-class taxpayers pay on their regular income. The president would use the revenue to pay for deficit reduction.
Obama defended the idea last week in a speech in Mesquite, Texas.
"Here's the principle: Middle-class families, working families, should not pay higher tax rates than millionaires or billionaires," Obama said. "I don't know how you argue against that; seems pretty straightforward to me. Warren Buffett's secretary shouldn't pay a higher tax rate than Warren Buffett."
Regardless of their belief that they may not be paying their fair share into federal coffers, Republicans said Obama's Buffett Rule is an effort to score political points and help win re-election rather than engage in a constructive dialogue.
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