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Protesters Rally Around Trading Tax

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Members of National Nurses United are joining with Occupy Wall Street protesters across the country to bring attention to the potential of a Wall Street transaction tax. The nurses will gather outside of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s office next week to promote their idea to “tax Wall Street and heal Main Street.”

But slowing trading hurts the economy, argue transaction tax opponents, which include influential Wall Street firms, finance industry lobbyists and trade associations. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will send its own letter to the super committee and to Members of Congress next week arguing that such a tax would harm investors and make the U.S. less economically competitive.

"This is an easy sound bite that has devastating consequences," said Tom Quaadman, a vice president of the chamber's Capital Markets Center. He noted that both the U.S. and Sweden have experimented with such taxes in the past, without success.

Until now, Wall Street interests opposed to the tax have enjoyed a strong ally in Geithner, who has rejected the idea in public statements. But as Europe struggles to resolve the Greek debt crisis, both French and German leaders have sought support for such a tax through the G-20. Last month, half a dozen leading trade associations wrote to Geithner to "reiterate our strong opposition to the imposition of a financial transaction tax in the United States."

"Particularly once everyday savers and investors realize this is a tax on them, I believe politically there would not be support for this," said Kenneth Bentsen, executive vice president of public policy and advocacy at the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, which spearheaded the letter. "But it's something we have to take seriously."

A DeFazio aide acknowledged that legislation to impose a tax on stock trades and other financial services transactions is virtually dead in the water in the GOP-controlled House. But he noted that the budget deficit is not going away, and that such a tax is a logical place to look for revenue sources. A Friday Capitol Hill briefing on the transaction tax turned into a standing-room-only event.

"It was twice as many people as we were expecting," said Nicole Woo, director of domestic policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a nonprofit that has helped buttress the academic case for a transaction tax. "To me, that is a sign that people are taking this pretty seriously."

Nurses coming to Washington next week will demonstrate outside Geithner's office and fan out over Capitol Hill in favor of a Wall Street tax. For the nurses, who have set up first aid stations at more than a dozen Occupy locations around the country, economic issues tie directly into health care, National Nurses United spokesman Carl Ginsburg said.

"When you have broad, enduring [economic] decline, people get sick," Ginsburg said. "We desperately need revenues for our communities."

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