Pryor moves

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 96 views 

Most observers are well aware the so-called Buffett rule has approximately zero chance of winning approval anytime soon in our plainly partisan, seemingly rudderless U.S. Senate, especially during this presidential election year.

Likely anticipating that his April 16 decision to help conservatives block the much-debated measure might antagonize many of his constituents, Mark Pryor, the senior senator from Arkansas, released a 65-word statement to explain why the Buffett rule isn’t in their best interest after all. Let’s break it down:
“There is no disputing that the wealthy should pay their fair share in taxes.”

Pryor opens with a bone for supporters – implying that, deep down, he agrees with them and really will vote to raise the wealthiest American’s taxes at the appropriate time.

Progressives will read it that way due to their assumption that the nation’s rich pay nothing remotely close to their fair share at tax time, particularly when so much wealth comes from the type of generous investment incomes that average taxpayers will never have access to. Pryor is reminding friends and supporters he, like, totally gets that.

Pryor continues: “This inequity should be fixed as part of broad tax reform, not as a political ploy meant to score points.”

Democrats across the state (and the president for that matter) must be at least a little offended by this statement. Referring to a key economic initiative of President Obama’s first term as a “political ploy” is as bad linguistically as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s recent reference of the Buffett rule as a “political gimmick.” Pryor’s comment is actually more insulting when considering the former comes from a fellow Democrat.

Pryor concludes: “A serious, bipartisan effort to reform the tax code could pass Congress and be signed into law, ensuring that employees no longer write larger checks to Uncle Sam than their CEOs.”

Again, Pryor underlines his belief that today’s tax system no longer functions properly, and bends over backward to again inform his supporters that in this matter he is on President Obama’s side (despite his voting against a key presidential initiative) and that all Americans, rich and poor alike, deserve fair treatment under the law.

Still, Pryor’s reasoning that tax reform “could pass Congress” is vague at best, and at worst strikingly unrealistic. Anything could pass Congress – someday, somehow. But during this current congressional session, bipartisan tax reform will almost certainly not reach the president’s desk, not with most members gallivanting about their home districts in search of reelection.

Instead, the Buffett rule (part of the president’s proposed $3 trillion deficit reduction plan) was always sure to fail in a predictably divided Congress and subsequently spend the rest of 2012 in limbo. And, of course, Obama is all too happy to take advantage of the Republican Party’s rush to side against the middle class. The president senses in the Buffett rule an emotional campaign issue that may still be lingering in the public’s collective mind when it comes time to vote.

Pryor was the only U.S. Senate Democrat to vote against President Obama’s proposal — and he did so knowing full well that the Buffet rule isn’t fascist clap-trap backed only by a handful of ultra-liberal tree huggers. Gallup reports that about six in 10 voters support it.

“It,” would be President Obama’s silly notion that all Americans pay their fair share in taxes. By setting a minimum 30% tax rate for the nation’s highest earners, the Buffett rule would raise tens of billions during the current decade. Not nearly enough to single-handedly fix the nation’s soaring deficit perhaps, but a decent effort nonetheless at evening the playing field.

Like the president, Pryor is also thinking big picture with this vote, but not about 2012. As he seeks reelection in 2014, Pryor may wish to not be too closely associated with the White House. After all, President Obama does not poll well in Arkansas, and is almost certain to lose our six electoral votes to Republicans this fall. Perhaps Pryor doesn’t see much point tying himself at the hip to a president that can’t offer him much help in the way of votes.

A progressive might argue that the president’s fairness argument deserves more care in the midst of the nation’s anemic economic recovery. Where’s the risk in backing an idea most Americans support? Is not being part of historic, republic-altering legislation (that, keep in mind, isn’t likely to appear anytime soon) really that much of a negative against winning consideration from a U.S. Senator?

Alas, Washington-style politics is about thousands of issues, not just one or two pertinent arguments, and if the cost of having Mark Pryor around to back a U.S. Supreme Court nominee here and support a budget compromise there means losing out on the Buffett rule (especially in a year it wasn’t likely to pass anyway), well, it could be another long-term victory for the president. And another (big picture) win for Pryor, who still can’t be accused back home of being a White House lackey.

In the meantime, as this game of cat and mouse between the aisles goes on, one wonders about the worker who stands on his feet all day, dripping sweat while earning minimum wage — and then reads, on front page after front page, about a $15.6 trillion federal deficit, Wall Street bailouts and endless word that the nation’s richest citizens have never had it better. What is he supposed to think?

And, more importantly, who will he support with his vote?