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Tax Day Arrives Amid Debate Over Fairness

April 17, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
Tax filing day this year brought protests and rallies across the country, both for tax cuts and tax fairness. While the issues intertwine, tax cuts and President Obama's "Buffett rule" push have become key points of contention in Congress and on the campaign trail. Gwen Ifill reports.
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GWEN IFILL: Millions of American taxpayers scrambled today to get their returns in on time. The annual deadline came against the backdrop of a growing discussion about who should pay what in taxes.

MAN: Too many people no longer recognize that private wealth creation requires public investment.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GWEN IFILL: Tax filing day 2012 brought protests and rallies around the country both for tax cuts and tax fairness. The issues are intertwined and have become key debating points in Congress and in the presidential campaign.

In recent days, President Obama pushed again for tax fairness in the form of the so-called Buffett rule.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You might have heard of this, but Warren Buffett is paying a lower tax rate than his secretary. Now, that’s wrong. That’s not fair.

GWEN IFILL: The president wanted a minimum 30 percent tax rate on people making more than a million dollars a year.

BARACK OBAMA: I’m saying, you’re bringing in a million bucks or more a year, then what the rule says is, you should pay the same percentage of your income in taxes as middle-class families do.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BARACK OBAMA: And if we do that, then it makes it affordable for us to be able to say, for those people who make under $250,000 a year, like 98 percent of American families do, then your taxes don’t go up.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GWEN IFILL: But the Senate, voting largely along party lines, rejected that approach last night. And Republicans dismissed it today as little more than an election-year gimmick.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN, R-Texas: What we have seen happen this week with the so-called Buffett rule is transparent to the American people. It pretends like they’re not smart enough to understand exactly the gamesmanship that is going on here and that the president is not serious about dealing with the big problems that the country confronts.

GWEN IFILL: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid replied that Republicans were playing games of their own.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev.: While obstructionism remains the Republicans’ top priority, it’s followed closely by throwing a lot of kisses to the wealthiest Americans.

GWEN IFILL: But the tax debate continued along the presidential campaign trail today. Republican Mitt Romney, appearing in Pennsylvania, called again for extending the Bush-era tax cuts on the wealthy and for cutting income tax rates by an extra 20 percent.

MITT ROMNEY (R): And I know the Democrats will day in and day out say, oh, they’re for tax cuts for the rich. It’s like, no, I’m going to keep the burden on high-income people, the same share of the burden it is today. If they pay X-percent of the tax burden today, why, they’re going to pay the same X-percent tomorrow.

GWEN IFILL: And it’s not just the presidential election adding urgency to the tax debate. Separate tax cut packages for the middle class enacted under both the Bush and Obama administrations are also set to expire at year’s end, all of which leads Americans with one eye on a Dec. 31 deadline and another on midnight tonight.

Income taxes for 2011 are due two days later than usual, since the 15th fell on a Sunday and the 16th was a holiday in the District of Columbia.

Online, the link between death and taxes. A new study shows drivers are at greater risk of fatal car accidents on tax day. Plus, we have resources for late filers.