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Republican tax return checkbox version of Buffett Rule passes House

While Congress was marking time last week until it could recess until after the election, it spent its valuable limited time some important pieces of legislation.


Aside from a bill to keep the government running through March 27, 2013, the House and Senate bandied about politically themed measures to highlight their partisan positions on jobs, the economy and, of course, taxes.

The best, or worst, example of this was the Buffett Rule bill that cleared the House.

This Republican version of Obama's proposal that millionaires pay a tax rate of at least 30 percent calls for voluntary contributions to pay down the national debt.

To make those donations to Uncle Sam easier, the GOP wants to add a checkbox on tax returns for the monetary gifts.

Presidential election campaign tax return checkboxThe Buffett Rule Act of 2012, introduced by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), would work similar to the checkbox already on the Form 1040 (and 1040A and 1040EZ) that lets each taxpayer give $3 to the presidential election campaign.

In the case of the deficit reduction donation, you and I could donate at least $1 but more if we wished to an account used to reduce the public debt when we fill out our tax returns each year.

Scalise called his bill, H.R. 6410, a "common-sense alternative to President Obama's divisive class warfare calls for higher taxes."

"If Warren Buffett and others like him truly feel they're not paying enough in taxes, they can use the Buffett Rule Act to put their money where their mouth is and voluntarily send in more to pay down the national debt, rather than changing the entire tax code to inflict more job-killing tax hikes on hard-working Americans," added Scalise.

A Joint Committee on Taxation analysis says the Scalise bill would increase federal revenue by $135 million from 2013 through 2022.

Neither Scalise's argument nor the potential income impressed House Democrats.

"There's nothing wrong with this bill except the label," said Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee. "This bill has nothing, zero, to do with the Buffett rule."

Option already available: Scalise's bill also doesn't address the fact that the choice to donate to a deficit reduction fund already exists.

Any person can send money to the Bureau of Public Debt in West Virginia to help wipe out some of Uncle Sam's red ink. You don't have to file a tax return to do so.

Even better, such donations to reduce the federal deficit are tax deductible. Scalise doesn't mention that in his bill, but I'm presuming you or I could still write off our $1 or more via checkbox donation.

We'll just probably have to wait for Internal Revenue Service regulations on this issue if it gets that far.

Enactment prospects slim: As for the eventual enactment of H.R. 6410, it's now gone to the Senate, which already has a pair of Buffett Rule bills pending.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) is the lead sponsor of a bill to set a minimum 30 percent federal tax rate for households with adjusted gross incomes of at least $2 million a year.

The Whitehouse measure would bring in $47 billion during the next decade, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

A Senate procedural vote in April, however, failed to garner the 60 votes needed to debate Whitehouse's Buffett Rule proposal.

Whether the Senate will look more favorably on Scalise's version -- or the Senate companion bill introduced by Republican John Thune of South Dakota -- when Congress returns after its recess depends largely on who's elected to the chamber and White House on Nov. 6.

But for now, House Republicans made their political point. And we wait to see if it was a worthwhile way to spend their dwindling hours on Capitol Hill.

I repeat, not.

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