* Plan taxes dividends at half rate of Obama’s plan
* Democratic plan to hit roadblock in U.S. House
By Kim Dixon
WASHINGTON, July 16 (Reuters) - A plan by Senate Democrats to let income tax rates rise for wealthier Americans takes a softer line on taxing dividends than President Barack Obama’s proposal amid a corporate lobbying push on Capitol Hill.
The draft plan, circulating among lobbyists and confirmed by Senate Democrats, mostly embodies Obama’s proposal to extend low tax rates for households earning up to $250,000 a year when the so-called Bush-era tax cuts expire at the end of 2012, while ending the cuts for the wealthy.
But with the plan, dividends would be taxed at half the rate proposed by the president, easing the tax bite on the rich.
Obama’s 2013 budget proposed bringing tax rates for dividends up to those for ordinary income, which would result in a tax rate of about 40 percent for the highest-income groups.
The Senate Democratic plan would raise dividend taxes from the current 15 percent rate to 20 percent, according to a summary.
Dividend-paying companies like Verizon Communications, United Parcel Service and Southern Company are among those pressing their case with influential lawmakers in recent months.
Chief executives from a lobbying group known as the Alliance for Savings and Investment are making the rounds with lawmakers this week.
The Democratic-controlled Senate will vote on the legislation within weeks, accelerating a partisan battle over tax rates ahead of the Nov. 6 presidential and congressional elections. Obama highlighted the issue last week, pitching a tax fairness theme to draw a contrast with Republicans.
“Many members of the other party believe that prosperity comes from the top down, so that if we spend trillions more on tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, that will somehow unleash jobs and economic growth,” Obama said last week.
The Democratic proposal will hit a roadblock in the House of Representatives, where Republicans in control favor extending all of the lower tax rates, including to the higher income groups.
Lower tax rates on income and investments enacted under Republican president George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003 will expire at the end of the year unless Congress takes action. Obama agreed to extend all the rates in 2010 for two years.
Because tax rates are assessed on marginal income, wealthier households would keep the lower rates on the first $250,000 of their income under the Democrats’ proposal.
Lawmakers are not expected to move on these tax issues until after the elections.
This looming deadline, along with pending automatic spending cuts and a potential for the government to hit its borrowing limit, has been dubbed the “fiscal cliff.”
Non-partisan congressional budget-scorers say doing nothing could push the U.S. economy back into a recession in the first half of next year.
Sean West, an analyst for investors at Eurasia Group, said most Democrats - even Obama - want to put off the stickier tax issues until next year when they attempt to overhaul the tax code.
“Congress is going to get a stop-gap solution and the dividends are going to catch a ride,” West said.
West pointed out that when Obama made his pitch last week, he backed only a one-year extension.
At the same time, both sides are ratcheting up the rhetoric, with some lawmakers suggesting they would let all tax rates rise if they do not get their way.
“It is crazy to think that they actually would go off the edge,” West said.