This past weekend, the White House floated a new principle called the "Buffett rule" that would require millionaires to pay a greater share of their income than the middle class. It's named after Warren Buffett, the billionaire investor who often makes the point that he pays a lower effective tax rate than his secretary. (Since he makes more of his income from tax-preferred investments than a typical salary, he pays a lower share of his overall income through payroll and individual income taxes.)
The Buffet Rule caused a stir online since conservatives complained that it represented class warfare -- as if reinforcing the contours of a progressive income tax were an act of war. Since President Obama did not mention it in his deficit speech this morning, it's fair to say the rule represents more of a guiding principle than a concrete policy measure.
But even as a guiding principle, it polls spectacularly well. More than 20 polls consulted by Bruce Bartlett reveal support for higher taxes in a deficit reduction deal, and the public prefers those higher taxes to disproportionately affect the rich. The White House can't run on a healthy recovery yet, and it won't run on spending cuts. The alternative is to turn 2012 into a referendum on the role of government and the responsibilities of the wealthy.