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Congress girds for long political battle over competing income tax plans

Democrats and Republicans are forcing votes in Congress this coming week on competing tax plans that affect millionaires and smaller businesses, and they know the proposals are doomed from the start.

But that doesn't matter to either party.

Their efforts, including a Senate vote today on President Obama's "Buffett rule" proposal to impose a minimum tax on the wealthiest Americans, are more about pontificating than legislating, aimed at voters in November's elections.

Neutral economists say neither bill would do much for the economy or job creation. Some political professionals are equally unimpressed with their potential impact on voters.

Undaunted, congressional leaders hope to maximize public attention by timing both roll calls with an eye to Tuesday, the annual deadline for filing income taxes with the Internal Revenue Service. The upcoming votes probably are just a start.

Senate Democrats later this year may hold additional votes tied to the "Buffett rule," using billionaire Warren E. Buffett's idea of a minimum 30 percent tax on top earners to raise money for a proposal to create jobs and keep student loan rates from rising.

Buffett, owner of Berkshire Hathaway and chairman of The Buffalo News, famously complained that, under the current tax code, he pays less in taxes than does his secretary.

With trillions in tax cuts dating from President George W. Bush set to expire in January, House and Senate leaders also are considering campaign-season votes on extending popular parts of those reductions.

In addition, Obama and his all-but-certain GOP opponent, Mitt Romney, will spend much of the campaign promoting their tax blueprints as antidotes to an economy still struggling to generate jobs.

Besides raising taxes on the wealthy, Obama would boost levies on many U.S. companies that do business overseas, and on the oil and gas industry. The new money would help lower individual and corporate rates and reduce federal deficits.

Romney would continue all Bush tax cuts, including those for the richest people, while trimming rates and eliminating estate taxes.

"If this were a heavyweight fight, we're still in the first round where both sides are kind of feeling each other out," Republican consultant Mike McKenna said about the votes in the week ahead.

As Congress returns today from a two-week spring break, the Democratic-led Senate expect votes on a "Buffett rule" measure by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. It would slap a minimum 30 percent income tax on people making over $2 million yearly and phase in higher taxes for those earning at least $1 million. Republicans are sure to block the bill.

The GOP-run House plans a Thursday vote on legislation providing a 20 percent tax deduction for businesses that employ fewer than 500 workers, which covers 99.9 percent of all companies. The proposal, sponsored by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., seems certain to pass, but fail in the Senate.

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