Washington Lobbyists for a day, a band of millionaires stormed Capitol Hill on Wednesday to urge Congress to tax them more.
They had a little trouble getting in. It turns out there are procedures, even for the really rich.
But once inside, their message was embraced by liberals and tolerated by some conservatives — including the ideological leader of anti-tax lawmakers, who had some advice for them, too.
“If you think the federal government can spend your money better than you can, then by all means” pay more in taxes than you owe, said Grover Norquist, the head of a group that has gotten almost all congressional Republicans to pledge to vote against tax hikes. The IRS should have a little line on the form where people can donate money to the government, he suggested, “just like the tip line on a restaurant receipt.”
In the silence left by the private efforts of the “supercommittee” to find $1.2 trillion or more in deficit cuts by Thanksgiving, free advice flowed in public.
And not just any advice: pie-in-the-sky suggestions from those not connected to the talks, mostly to reopen debates that have led nowhere. The millionaires want the panel to raise taxes on people who earn more than $1 million, even though most Republicans are committed against the idea. And 150 House member and senators urged a much bigger debt-and-deficit deal, even as a small-scope agreement is proving elusive.
While they were at it, the lawmakers insisted that bipartisanship was not, in fact, dead.
This group of House members and senators shared a stage and some jokes and signed a letter urging the supercommittee of Republicans and Democrats to find the required $1.2 trillion in cuts — plus about $2.8 trillion more. They all want the panel to avoid triggering automatic cuts as a penalty for failing. “Congress working together,” read posters behind the group.
So this uneasy alliance of 150 Republicans and Democrats will vote for whatever deal the supercommittee strikes?
“No,” said House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer. “Nobody’s going to commit to the deal until they see the deal.”
What deal? There is no evidence that one is near, so the millionaires tried to meet with anyone who would meet with them.
The progressive caucus did, eagerly and on-camera. The rest wasn’t so easy.
At a basement entrance to the Capitol, a police officer pointed to the name badges that identified each wearer as “Patriotic Millionaire.”
“That is not a visitor’s badge,” the officer said. “Go to the visitors desk and get a visitor’s badge.”
Off they trudged, a group mostly of men in business-casual clothing toting laptops and umbrellas, to a desk visited by tourists and lobbyists. Badges secured, they headed in.
Lawrence Benenson, vice president of Benenson Capitol Co., ran into freshman Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., in an elevator.
“I’m with the Patriotic Millionaires and we want to pay more in taxes,” he told her.
“How much more?” she asked.