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Now, the Buffett Rule would apply to the small number of taxpayers who get most of their money from investments. They are some of the wealthiest people around. NPR's Jim Zarroli looks at who would be affected and what it might mean for the economy.
JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: The Buffett Rule is aimed at rich people, but not all rich people would be affected by it. Rob Williams is a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center.
ROB WILLIAMS: For high-income people who get a lot of their income from wage and salaries - the George Clooneys of the world, LeBron James, the CEOs - those people would not see an effect in the Buffett Tax because they're already paying tax rates above 30 percent.
ZARROLI: But Williams says wealthy people who get their money from assets like stocks and bonds would feel the pain.
WILLIAMS: If you're in a situation like Mitt Romney or a Warren Buffett, who's paying a very low tax rate because much of your income comes from an investment, you'll see a very large increase in tax.
ZARROLI: All told, the Tax Policy Center says 217,000 households would be subject to the Buffett Rule. They would pay, on average, an additional $190,000 a year in taxes, though that would vary enormously from person to person. Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Harris Private Bank, says a lot of those people would have to rethink what they do with their money.
JACK ABLIN: If you tax, you know, millionaires that are investing in, for example, municipal bonds, and they're enjoying the tax benefit of that interest, you could see a whole rash of investors moving away from buying bonds of our state and local governments.
ZARROLI: Under the Buffett Rule, people who sell assets would suddenly have to pay much higher taxes on the profit they make. Will McBride of the Tax Foundation says a lot of people would rush to unload the assets they hold before the law takes effect.
WILL MCBRIDE: Say if this tax were to go into effect January 1st next year, the stock market in December will not look pretty.
ZARROLI: Longer term, McBride says, the law would hurt the economy even more. Because they'd have to pay more taxes on the profit they make, people would have less incentive to invest. Small start-ups would suffer.
MCBRIDE: You don't want to heavily tax investment. It's because then you're taxing the thing that creates long-term economic growth.
ZARROLI: But Rob Williams of the Tax Policy Center says there's not a lot of evidence that higher taxes really affect investment all that much. Williams says right now, companies and individuals have lots of cash, but they're not using it.
WILLIAMS: The problem right now is not that people don't have monies to invest. The problem right now is people don't see investment opportunities that they think are worth putting their money into.
ZARROLI: That's because the economy is so weak, he says. Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities contends that the Buffett Rule could actually benefit the economy.
JARED BERNSTEIN: A lot of very wealthy people spend a lot of time and money and effort structuring their income to take advantage of a tax code that's fraught with loopholes.
ZARROLI: Because the Buffett Rule establishes a 30 percent minimum tax rate, it would be much harder for rich people to game the system.
BERNSTEIN: So, if anything, I think the kind of simplicity here militates against the kind of game playing that we see so much of in our economy.
ZARROLI: And Bernstein says a simpler tax system would be good for the economy in the long run. But none of that will happen unless Congress passes the Buffett Rule, and right now it's not at all clear that's going to happen. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.