A Democratic presidential debate, before a predominantly African American audience at Howard University last night, took a small step toward smoking out the leading White House contenders on Wall Street's hottest political issue: raising taxes on private equity and hedge fund executives.
Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who has ducked an issue that would hit his former colleagues at Fortress Investment Group, couldn't avoid showing his populist colors. Citing Warren Buffett's complaint that he pays a lower effective tax rate than his secretary,Edwards cited the "moral disconnnect" between workers paying ordinary income tax rates and financial tycoons paying preferential capital gains rates.
An Edwards aide preserved the candidate's room for waffling after the debate, saying he hadn't endorsed pending House legislation to curb the use of "carried interest." But after Edwards' comments last night he'll face a strong hypocrisy attack if he doesn't embrace the idea.
His rival Chris Dodd showed his colors, too--as the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and representative of the upscale hedge-fund suburbs of Connecticut. He reminded the audience that the tax code must be "pro-growth" as well as reflect American values.
Front-runners Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton skirted the "carried interest" issue, but made clear once again that their tax and spending priorities involve shift part of the tax burden from the middle class to the rich. Said Mrs. Clinton: "We have to change the tax system, and we’ve got to get back to having those with the most contribute to this country."
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