With public opinion running high for raising taxes on the rich, a group of congressional Democrats, along with independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, are pushing legislation that would increase taxes on millionaires.
The authors of the Senate and House bills, Sen. Sanders and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., argue raising taxes on the rich is necessary to curtail the deficit and to keep vital social programs from being chopped off. The Senate bill, S 552, was introduced March 16 and the House bill, HR 1124, March 10.
"The fact is, Republicans don't want to do anything to take away tax breaks from the richest Americans, and we want to stimulate that debate," Rep. Schakowsky told The Hill.
"Do we establish an emergency deficit reduction tax on millionaires and billionaires," Sanders' legislation asks rhetorically, "or do we deny over 200,000 little children the opportunity to enroll in Head Start by cutting this program by $1.1 billion?"
The two congressional representatives cite a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that found eight in 10 adults thought it was either totally or mostly acceptable to impose a surtax on people making more than $1 million a year.
Last year President Obama and the congressional Democratic leadership had to give up their demand for raising taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year in order get the Republican leadership's agreement to extend unemployment insurance and other vital social services.
With chances for passage of any legislation that would raise taxes on the rich that much harder since Republicans took control of the House in last year's elections, this time around Democrats are hoping to drive their message home to the public more clearly: Republicans are for the millionaires and Democrats for the middle class.
"We didn't want to get into too much nuance about, well, should it be 250, 300, 275," said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a bill co-sponsor. "I think setting the cap where it is - millionaires - sets a starker option."
This approach is also more likely to win conservative Democrats and other Democrats representing high-cost-of-living states who last year balked at the President's lower tax threshold for the rich, some Democrats noted.
Sanders and Schakowsky say their millionaires tax proposals would raise as much as $50 billion and roughly $79 billion respectively, as well as narrow the huge and growing income inequality between the working class and the corporate rich.
Sanders' bill would also eliminate many big oil and gas company tax loopholes.
Sanders' legislation notes, "From 2000 to 2010, the 5 largest oil companies in the United States made nearly $1 trillion in profits, yet some of them paid nothing in Federal income taxes in recent years."
The Republican leadership budget proposals include large cuts in vital social programs without any proposals to raise revenue, much less through an increased tax on the rich and large corporations.
Meanwhile, President Obama has called again for increasing taxes on those earning more than $250,000 in the White House's fiscal 2012 budget request earlier this year.
"It goes to the heart of whether we are serious about reducing the deficit, as opposed to just shrinking government," a Democratic Senate aide told The Hill.
Image: Stock photo of Sen. Sanders, provided by his office.