Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, voted last night to increase taxes on millionaires, then voted to keep their taxes low.
What's the deal with that?
Well, it will take a bit of explaining. The tax cuts instituted in the early 2000s under President Bush, which lowered taxes for the rich AND middle-income earners, are set to expire at the end of the year.
The parties in Washington are now debating whether to extend those cuts, and for whom to extend them.
In Mr. Owens' perfect world, federal income taxes on those who earn more than $500,000 annually would rise, and the estate tax — which hits people who pass on estates of more than $5 million at 35 percent — would be left alone.
Washington isn't a perfect world, though. Mr. Owens had to choose between bills that pulled him in a few different directions. Here's how he voted (note: All of these extensions are for one year).
A Democratic amendment that would raise taxes on those who make more than $250,000 annually, and would impose estate taxes on people with estates worth more than $3.5 million
Mr. Owens voted "no" on this amendment, spokesman Sean Magers said. The income-tax level wasn't the problem; it was the estate tax exemption, which Mr. Owens believes should stay at the $5 million level. If nothing is done, the level drops to $1 million. The amendment failed.
A Democratic amendment that would hike income taxes on those who make more than $1 million annually, without touching the estate tax level
Mr. Owens voted "yes" on this amendment. The amendment failed.
The Republican bill, which extended all of the Bush tax cuts regardless of income levels, including the wealthy
While Mr. Owens says taxes should be hiked on the wealthy, and would support tax hikes on people who make more than $250,000, he took a pragmatic approach on this one, Mr. Magers said. With the choice of extending the tax breaks for everybody, including the wealthy, and extending the tax breaks for nobody, including the middle class, Mr. Owens took the former.
"Bill's not going to cut off the nose to spite the face," Mr. Magers said.
That bill passed, and now it goes to the Senate, where its fate is dubious at best.
Matt Doheny, Mr. Owens' Republican opponent on Nov. 6, wasn't buying Mr. Owens' tax-cutting, moderate bona fides.
"Savvy people see this vote for what it is: A nakedly political maneuver done in a desperate attempt to win re-election," spokesman Jude Seymour said in a news release. "Bill Owens can't be trusted to say what he'll do, and do what he says. And that's why, this November, he'll be replaced.”
Mr. Doheny favors extending the Bush tax cuts for all income levels and also favors eliminating the estate tax in its entirety.