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Sense of the Senate Resolution on Millionaire Contributions to Deficit Reduction Prepped

The Senate, getting around to debating the deficit and debt this week, will vote on a very odd amendment put forward by Majority Leader Harry Reid. The Hill describes it as a vote on a “millionaire tax bill,” but that’s only partly right. It’s a vote on a bill. But the bill actually offers a sense of the Senate rather than legislation that can be enacted. This is the entire bill.

(a) Findings.–Congress makes the following findings:

(1) The Wall Street Journal reports that median pay for chief financial officers of S&P 500 companies increased 19 percent to $2,900,000 last year.

(2) Over the past 10 years, the median family income has declined by more than $2,500.

(3) Twenty percent of all income earned in the United States is earned by the top 1 percent of individuals.

(4) Over the past quarter century, four-fifths of the income gains accrued to the top 1 percent of individuals.

(b) Sense of the Senate.–It is the sense of the Senate that any agreement to reduce the budget deficit should require that those earning $1,000,000 or more per year make a more meaningful contribution to the deficit reduction effort.

I’m actually all for nakedly political votes. This bill does not put anything into law, does not actually force millionaires to make a “more meaningful contribution” to deficit reduction. All it does is force Republicans onto the side of millionaires. If used successfully, that’s a fine vote to have for the next several cycles, and is sure to come up in television ads. Politics must be played sometimes.

But let’s not pretend that this is a “millionaire’s tax bill.” There was an opportunity to put a millionaire’s surtax in the Democratic budget; Kent Conrad will deliver a budget with a balanced approach between taxes and spending, but that surtax was dropped. There are a series of ideas about ending tax breaks for corporate jet owners, but I don’t know if you can even call them “meaningful.” Especially when you put them against the potential for $500 billion in Medicare and Medicaid cuts – just a year after a separate set of $500 billion in cuts to Medicare Advantage overpayments and other fat-trimming from Medicare – and another $100 billion through changing the COLA formula for Social Security beneficiaries. That adds up to twice as much in deficit reduction from seniors, the poor and the disabled than from the sum total of all revenue raisers on the table.

And anyway, none of those revenue raisers will be voted on in this sense of the Senate legislation. It just says that millionaire contributions would be a good idea. I assume then that the plan is to approach the millionaires individually.

UPDATE: I made this point implicitly, but yes, it’s deeply insane that we have to have a debate over the notion that the rich should contribute in a small way to any deficit reduction, when trillions are already on the table impacting the most vulnerable in society.

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David Dayen

David Dayen