(Anthony Bolante/Reuters )
Republicans blasted back at Warren Buffett after the billionaire investor argued in a newspaper opinion piece that the mega-rich in the U.S. are “coddled” by the tax code.
The country’s wealthiest citizens pay considerably less taxes, as a percentage of income, than the poor and middle class, Buffett said in an article published Monday in the New York Times.
“My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress,” Buffett wrote. “It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.”
Buffett’s viewpoint gave President Obama a fresh set of talking points as he launched a three-day bus tour through the Midwest, and reignited the fierce debate over what the United States should do to reduce federal budget deficits.
Republicans responded with a series of tweets questioning Buffett’s sincerity.
“For tax raising advocates like Warren Buffett, I am sure Treasury would take a voluntary payment for deficit reduction,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) wrote in a tweet.
“If Warren Buffet wants to pay more taxes and send more of his money to Washington, why doesn't he just do it?” tweeted Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who has led the push against tax increases to help reduce budget deficits over the next 10 years.
This is not the first time that Buffett, a friend and donor to Obama, has used his personal tax bill – and those of his employees – to make the case that super wealthy Americans are under-taxed. In 2007, Buffett raised the issue at a fundraiser for then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, arguing that secretaries pay higher tax rates than their millionaire bosses, and offering to pay $1 million to anyone who could prove him wrong.
This time around, Buffett’s words come as a bipartisan committee of 12 members of Congress set out to trim the federal budget gap by $1.5 trillion, as the growing national debt has become a central issue as the 2012 presidential race heats up.
In a Monday interview with PBS’s Charlie Rose, Buffett said the op-ed was aimed specifically at that group of lawmakers known as the “super committee.”
“If I could pick 12 readers for it, they’re the ones,” Buffett said.
Buffett rejected the claim that raising taxes to cut U.S. deficits will kill jobs, arguing that the country had higher taxes between 1980 and 2000 and “nearly 40 million jobs were added.”
“You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation.”
Obama took Buffett’s op-ed on the campaign trail, citing it in town halls as he traveled through Minnesota and Iowa.
“He pointed out that he pays a lower tax rate than anybody in his office, including the secretary,” Obama said at a town hall in Cannon Falls, Minn. “He figured out that his tax bill, he paid about 17%…You don’t get those tax breaks. You’re paying more than that.”
As Obama was touting the Buffett piece, conservatives set out to debunk it.
“..Apart for [sic] misstating his tax burden, Buffett fails to call for significant reforms in Social Security and Medicare that could reduce federal spending, and he downplays the role of taxation plays in investment decisions,” wrote Mike Brownfield, the assistant director of strategic communications at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington.
“A billionaire calling for more taxes might make great political theater, but there’s more to the story than Buffett – and Obama – would have you believe.”
Buffett rejected the notion that taxes deter investment, saying, “I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain.”