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Long political fights ahead over dueling tax plans

By Alan Fram

Associated Press

Published: Monday, April 16 2012 2:11 a.m. MDT

FILE - In this Feb. 16, 2012, file photo House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., a member of the House-Senate conference committee negotiating the extension of the payroll tax break, talk on Capitol Hill during attempts to reach an agreement. Democrats and Republicans are forcing votes in Congress this week of April 2012 on competing tax plans that they know are doomed from the start. But little does that matter to either party.

J. Scott Applewhite, File, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Democrats and Republicans are forcing votes in Congress this coming week on competing tax plans that affect millionaires and smaller businesses, and they know the proposals are doomed from the start.

But that doesn't matter to either party.

Their efforts, including a Senate vote Monday on President Barack Obama's "Buffett rule" proposal to impose a minimum tax on the wealthiest Americans, are more about pontificating than legislating, aimed at voters in November's congressional and presidential elections.

Neutral economists say neither bill would do much for the economy or job creation. Some political professionals are equally unimpressed with their potential impact on voters.

Undaunted, congressional leaders hope to maximize public attention by timing both roll calls with an eye to Tuesday, the annual deadline for filing income taxes with the Internal Revenue Service. The upcoming votes probably are just a start.

Senate Democrats later this year may hold additional votes tied to the "Buffett rule," using his idea of a minimum 30 percent tax on top earners to raise money for proposal to create jobs and keep student loan rates from rising.

With trillions in tax cuts dating from President George W. Bush set to expire in January, House and Senate leaders also are considering campaign-season votes on extending popular parts of those reductions, such as preventing the $1,000 child tax credit from being cut in half.

In addition, Obama and his all-but-certain GOP opponent, Mitt Romney, will spend much of the campaign promoting their tax blueprints as antidotes to an economy still struggling to generate jobs.

Besides raising taxes on the wealthy, Obama would boost levies on many U.S. companies that do business overseas, and on the oil and gas industry. The new money would help lower individual and corporate rates and reduce federal deficits.

Romney would continue all Bush tax cuts, including those for the richest people, while trimming rates and eliminating estate taxes.

"If this were a heavyweight fight, we're still in the first round where both sides are kind of feeling each other out," Republican consultant Mike McKenna said about the votes in the week ahead.

On Monday, as Congress returns from a two-week spring break, the Democratic-led Senate expect votes on a "Buffett rule" measure by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. It would slap a minimum 30 percent income tax on people making over $2 million yearly and phase in higher taxes for those earning at least $1 million. Republicans are sure to block the bill, nicknamed for billionaire Warren Buffett, who backs higher taxes on the rich.

The GOP-run House plans a Thursday vote on legislation providing a 20 percent tax deduction for businesses that employ fewer than 500 workers, which covers 99.9 percent of all companies. The proposal, sponsored by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., seems certain to pass, but fail in the Senate.

Those votes are set just as many Americans stare at their own tax returns. The Internal Revenue Service says that through April 6, it had received 99 million of 145 million expected returns. So far, 80 million refunds have been issued averaging $2,794, down $101 from last year.

For political leaders looking ahead to the November elections, the demise of this week's bills will matter little.

Democrats think the Buffett rule vote will underscore their commitment to economic fairness and GOP favoritism for the rich, a prominent election theme. Hammering at it lets Obama shine a spotlight on Romney, a former private equity executive who has paid an income tax rate of about 15 percent on annual earnings of $21 million, which is a lower rate than many middle-class families pay.

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