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Millionaires to Congress: Take our taxes, please

With the fiscal cliff approaching, four dozen California millionaires have renewed their call for Congress to let tax cuts expire for America’s richest citizens.

The millionaires are part of the national group Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength, a movement of more than 200 Americans with incomes over $1 million a year calling for higher taxes on incomes of that level. They’re joining with The Action, a broad coalition of labor and progressive groups pursuing the same goal.

“The rich have done extremely well in America for the past 30 years and it is past time for them to begin paying more taxes to support better public services,” retired attorney Guy Saperstein of Piedmont, one of the millionaires, said in today’s news release.

Another of the millionaires, former Wall Street Executive and author Ken Morris of Ross, said “fiscal intelligence suffered while millionaires benefited from GOP intransigence on fair taxation for far too long.”

“For the sake of renewing middle class economic health, it is high time to undo those policies by allowing the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans to expire,” he said.

Follow after the jump for a full list of the California millionaires…
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Dems and allies step up attacks on Dan Lungren

Democrats and their allies are stepping up their attacks on Rep. Dan Lungren, who they see as one of the most vulnerable Republican House incumbents ripe for a turnover.

Dan LungrenLungren, R-Gold River, is being challenged by Democrat Ami Bera, an Elk Grove physician. Lungren beat back a challenge from Bera in 2010, 50 percent to 43 percent, in what was then the 3rd Congressional District, where Republicans held a 3.5-percentage-point registration edge.

And Lungren finished on top in this June’s primary election with 52.7 percent of the vote to Bera’s 41 percent; independent candidate Curt Taras got 3.2 percent and Libertarian Douglas Tuma had 3.1 percent. But Democrats believe a much higher turnout in November, with a ticket led by President Obama, could buoy Bera to victory in the newly drawn 7th Congressional District, which is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched a new online ad Monday targeting Lungren and three other Republican House incumbents (Jeff Denham, Mary Bono Mack and Brian Bilbray) for supporting GOP tax policies:

Today, the League of Conservation Voters named Lungren to its new “Flat Earth Five” program, which aims to defeat five climate change deniers in the House of Representatives this election cycle; the LCV will commit what it calls “significant resources” – at least $1.5 million for television ads, direct mail and phone banking – to these five districts.

At a town hall meeting in 2009, Lungren claimed “ideological bias” is driving efforts to combat climate change. “The science on climate change is as solid as any public policy question will ever get, but Rep. Lungren just won’t acknowledge the facts,” LCV president Gene Karpinski said in a news release.

Although he acknowledged it’s “prudent” to reduce carbon dioxide emissions “without waiting for proof or disproof of global warming,” he has opposed climate change legislation and later in 2009 called the Environmental Protection Agency’s move to regulate carbon a “vicious blow” to Americans’ freedom.

“At this point it’s clear that Lungren’s ideology is failing his constituents – he’s voted against incentives for conservation and renewable energy, and for big polluters and for more oil drilling,” California League of Conservation Voters CEO Sarah Rose said in the release. “Californians in this district deserve better. They deserve a leader that will put them first.”

Lungren joins Reps. Ann Marie Buerkle, R-N.Y., and Dan Benishek, R-Mich., in the “Flat Earth Five” program; two more names will be announced in the next two weeks.

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Joe Biden: ‘Most Americans got nailed’

Vice President Joe Biden came out swinging today in advance of tomorrow’s U.S. Senate vote on President Obama’s tax proposal.

“It’s a simple proposition – we’re proposing to extend the middle-class tax cut for 98 percent of the American people” – those making up to $250,000 per year, Biden told reporters on a conference call.

If the tax cuts aren’t extended, 114 million people will see their taxes increase by thousands of dollars, he said. Biden was citing figures from a new report from the National Economic Council.

“This shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” he said. “But the Republicans have fixed on extending all the cuts… They’re holding the middle-class tax cut hostage.”

Republicans propose continuing the Bush-era tax cuts for all Americans, regardless of income. Biden said extending the cuts for those making more than $250,000 per year would cost $1 trillion over next decade, almost 80 percent of which would go to those making more than $1 million a year (who would continue enjoying an average tax cut of $160,000 per year). “What’s happening here is the very wealthy are getting the vast bulk of all of what the Republicans want to extend,” he said.

“The other side claims this is the best way to grow the economy,” Biden said – a continuation of “trickle down” economic policies. “The problem is, we’ve seen that movie before, and we know how it ends. It didn’t work before. In the beginning of the decade, congress passed trillions of dollars in tax cuts that benefited the wealthiest Americans more than anybody else.”

“What happened? The rich got richer… but most Americans got nailed. We had the slowest job growth in half a century after 2000, the typical family actually saw their income fall.”

In fact, Biden said, the Republicans’ tax proposal actually would hit millions of poor and middle-class Americans with higher taxes while protecting the wealthy.

He said that under the GOP plan, 11 million people will take a $1,100 tax hike because the American Opportunity Tax Credit for college expenses won’t be extended; 12 million will take an $800 tax hike due to elimination of recent child tax credit improvements; and 6 million will take a $500 tax hike due to elimination of marriage and large-family provisions under the Earned Income Tax Credit program.

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Reactions to Senate’s rejection of ‘Buffett Rule’

The U.S. Senate today rejected consideration of “the Buffett Rule,” which would impose a minimum tax rate on those making more than $1 million a year, on a 51-45 vote.

The rule is a key weapon in Democrats’ election-year arsenal, leveraging the income-disparity narrative that’s striking a chord with many Americans. It was bound to be a total non-starter in the Republican-dominated House, just as a Republican plan is sure to be doomed later this week in the Democrat-dominated Senate.

Sixty Senate votes were needed to invoke cloture, end debate and bring the measure to a simple majority vote. The vote was largely along party lines, although Susan Collins, R-Maine, voted with most Democrats for closure while Mark Pryor, D-Ark., voted with most Republicans against it.

Though the outcome was no surprise, Bay Area Democrats dutifully voiced outrage.

“Republicans have once again shown that their No. 1 priority is protecting the wealthiest Americans from paying their fair share,” U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said in a statement. “Why else would they have voted against legislation to ensure that middle-class families don’t pay a higher effective tax rate than millionaires and billionaires?”

“Tonight, Senate Republicans voted against the so-called ‘Buffett rule’ which would restore fairness by fixing a stark tax inequity,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said in a statement. “Tomorrow, House Republicans will again pass their devastating budget that gives massive tax breaks to millionaires and ends the Medicare guarantee. Later this week, House Republicans will act to benefit their special interest friends by putting forward legislation that adds $46 billion to the deficit and does not require the creation of one single job. Once again, Republicans are giving away billions of dollars to millionaires at the expense of middle-class Americans.”

The White House issued a statement calling the rejected rule “common sense.”

“At a time when we have significant deficits to close and serious investments to make to strengthen our economy, we simply cannot afford to keep spending money on tax cuts that the wealthiest Americans don’t need and didn’t ask for,” the White House statement said. “But it’s also about basic fairness – it’s just plain wrong that millions of middle-class Americans pay a higher share of their income in taxes than some millionaires and billionaires. America prospers when we’re all in it together and everyone has the opportunity to succeed.”

On the other side, California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro issued a statement saying the Senate “did the right thing today to put an end to an unnecessary distraction and a roadblock to real tax reform.

“Imposing job killing taxes is no way to encourage entrepreneurship in our state or our nation,” he said. “Today’s vote was a small victory for the American people, and for Californians who are woefully overtaxed on this ‘Tax Day’ eve.”

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No press at President’s Bay Area fundraisers

Apparently there will be no press access to President Obama’s fundraisers Sunday in Woodside and Atherton.

This is different from his last Bay Area fundraising trip: In April, the White House travelling press corps and a designated local pool reporter – responsible for filing a report to the White House which is then disseminated to any interested media outlets – were allowed in. I was the pool reporter for the exclusive dinner at salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff’s San Francisco home, as well as for the big Masonic Auditorium rally that followed; the Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci was the pool reporter for a breakfast at San Francisco’s St. Regis Hotel the next day.

At the Benioff dinner, the press was ushered in essentially through a back door and kept in a holding area. We were walked into the courtyard where the dinner was being held just in time to hear the President begin his remarks; we were walked out just as he started taking questions from the guests. At no time did we have an opportunity to ask questions of the guests, and certainly not of the President.

But at least we heard what he said. The President will hold one open-press event during this trip: a town-hall style meeting on job creation Monday at the Mountain View headquarters of networking site LinkedIn.

I can think of a few possible reasons why Sunday’s fundraisers won’t be open to the press like April’s were.

For one, when the President was here in April, he hadn’t just announced plans to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans to help solve the nation’s fiscal woes. Perhaps he doesn’t feel this is the right time to be seen accepting massive donations – the dinner costs $35,800 per plate, with $5,000 to his campaign and the rest to the Democratic National Committee – from those very same wealthy Americans.

For another, Sunday’s fundraisers are happening right across the Bay from ground zero of a situation that’s still rippling through his Administration: the bankruptcy of Fremont-based solar manufacturer Solyndra after receiving a $535 million loan guarantee under the Recovery Act. It’s not an issue White House officials – or Solyndra executives, for that matter – have been eager to discuss, but it’ll certainly be on the minds of the Bay Area hoi polloi at these fundraisers.

I asked Marjan Philhour, a San Francisco-based fundraising consultant who is executive director of the Bay Area Democrats PAC, about my ideas. “I don’t believe the decision you’ve described on press carries any particular significance,” she replied.

Naturally, I always come at situations like this from the standpoint that the press should have access to everything the President does on a trip like this. Not everyone sees it that way.

“I have never understood the practice of letting press into fundraising events,” said Michael Fraioli, a Washington, D.C.-based fundraiser with experience in California campaigns. “There is never a ‘good’ story about political fundraising. Some are less objectionable than others but that’s as good as it gets.”

“Donors attend events to mix with each other and with the guest(s) of honor – not with reporters. President Obama has held firm to his position on PAC money and lobbyist money. I can’t say I agree but he has held firm and it does eliminate a fairly large pool of potential donors,” he continued. “Unlike the ‘good’ government groups which are in the habit of accusing politicians of granting special access to contributors, you will be able to see every contribution to these events on line and with details about the donors (employer and occupation). The watchdog groups give us only the information they choose to give when they choose to give it.”