Setting a new low for lack of detail and specificity, Senate Democrats unveiled their “Fair Shot for Everyone” agenda last week. Only loosely a set of real proposals, the agenda is merely a series of talking points designed to distract voters from President Obama’s lagging approval numbers and the continuing unpopularity of the Affordable Care Act. The Fair Shot agenda makes Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman’s “Jobs for America” plan look fully developed and transparent.
At the March 27 press conference announcing their election year platform, prominent Democratic senators emphasized that although their plan was designed to proactively aid the middle class, Republicans were determined to defend a status quo skewed toward the rich and multinational corporations. Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York argued that the press was focused too much on Obamacare, which doesn’t even affect 85 percent of Americans. “You folks all want to ask about Obamacare, but the American people, most of them, are not directly affected by Obamacare,” Schumer said. “They want to hear what we're going to do for them.” And the Democratic plan is full of small items designed to spur turnout among their base in what is expected to be a dismal round of midterm elections for them.
Most of the Democrats’ Senate agenda is focused on nontax items. Not surprisingly, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray want to hold another vote on expired unemployment benefits. They will also propose a higher minimum wage. The Democrats will push for a vote on equal pay for women, something they know will fail. Expect that to be held on April 8 (which has been dubbed “Equal Pay Day”).
Murray criticized Republicans for tinkering with the tax code instead of raising the minimum wage (which was a thinly veiled criticism of House Ways and Means Committee Chair Dave Camp’s comprehensive tax reform plan). Her main tax item is legislation to expand the earned income tax credit. The senators at the press conference railed against tax breaks for companies that locate jobs and profits overseas but, as usual, didn’t reveal what tax provisions they were talking about or how they planned to address those issues. Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan has introduced a complicated provision that limits deductions for moving jobs overseas and creates a credit for “insourcing,” but that is hardly a serious base erosion and profit-shifting proposal.
Reid did say he hoped to find bipartisan support for energy tax legislation drafted by Portman and New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen. The majority leader might hold a vote on Missouri Republican Roy Blunt’s plan for manufacturing incentives. The goal is to show that Democratic control of the Senate can produce legislation with the support of both parties, while still protecting the Democratic base.
Tax reform observers probably expected little from Democrats this year, and that’s exactly what they got. The loss of Baucus means we won’t get something comparable to Camp’s draft. Instead, both parties have decided to cloak campaign puffery in the form of tax rhetoric and small bills that will have little chance of becoming law.