By Dustin Hurst ǀ Watchdog.org
HELENA — As President Barack Obama seeks tax hikes for Americans and businesses making more than $250,000, one Montana lawmaker might be in the best position to stop the deal.
Tester, along with U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-WVa.; Claire McCaskill D-Mo.; Bill Nelson, D-Fla.; Ben Nelson, D-Neb.; and Jim Webb, D-Va.; could ultimately decide the tax hike debate. Each of these Democrats is facing a tough election challenge and may want to avoid catching heat for raising taxes.
Obama’s plan would keep in place tax rates instituted by President George W. Bush for those making less than $250,000 annually. People making more than that, including an estimated 900,000 small businesses falling under the plan, would see their rates go up.
The new Obama proposal is part of his quest to force wealthier Americans to pay more, with the president saying they need to pay their fair share. “That’s why I believe it’s time for the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, including myself, to expire,” Obama said at a Monday news conference.
But vulnerable Democrats are wary of the plan. The Wall Street Journal notes Tester and Manchin advocate not for a temporary extension of the Bush tax cuts, but rather total reform of the nation’s tax code. The two push for at least partial institution of the Bowles-Simpson tax plan, which would lower tax rates but close loopholes.
“I would much prefer dealing with the tax code, with all the expenditures, in a bigger package similar to the Simpson-Bowles (deficit reduction) proposal,” Tester told The Hill. “If we can do that and we can roll out a big package that is significant, then we can do something with the tax rate from a reforming-it standpoint and do some things that really get our deficit and debt under control.”
The president’s package is likely dead, though, as the Republican-controlled U.S. House is unlikely to go along with the plan. The House will vote later this week on extending the Bush tax cuts for a year to all income earners, though that plan is unlikely to win over the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate.
Tester’s November foe, GOP U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, will likely support the one-year tax cut extension. Rehberg supports the cuts and voted to make them permanent in 2002.