Billionaire Buffett to lawmakers: I don’t need your coddling

Warren Buffett, an icon of American super wealth, skewers the anti-tax political theocracy dominating Republican politics in a New York Times op-ed today. GOP justifications for refusing to raise taxes for billionaire Americans at a time of record deficits are preposterous, he writes, adding that taxes have never stopped wealthy people from investing. He points out that Clinton-era tax rates were clearly more effective in adding jobs than the slashed rates of the Bush years. He adds that most of the mega wealthy only pay taxes on investment income, whereas lower- and middle-class Americans pay payroll taxes, too. He says the game has been rigged in his favor by the country’s billionaire-friendly Congress and that the country’s fiscal policy is unethical and absurd.

“While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks,” he writes. “These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.”

Buffett, chairman and CEO of giant-conglomerate holding company Berkshire Hathaway, reports that he paid nearly $7 million in taxes last year, but that, given the special tax rate lawmakers have bestowed upon him, that was half of what he would have paid if he were less wealthy.

“What I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.”

Buffett joins a growing list of super-rich Americans who have come out against the tax policies pushed by Republican leaders and their conservative think-tank researchers. Dozens of top-earning Americans have banded together this year in a group called Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength to plead with lawmakers to end the disastrous experiment in tax cuts always that persists regardless of how many wars the country is fighting and how imbalanced the budget grows. So far, the millionaires have made little headway in Washington.

In today’s op-ed, however, Buffett is persuasive, in part, for laying out a tax-policy problem voters who earn their money mostly by working and not by investing aren’t likely to hear wealthy GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney, for example, nor any of his GOP rivals, detail on the stump in places like Ottumwa or Des Moines.

“If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do,” Buffet explains, “[the percentage of your taxable income] may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine — most likely by a lot.”

The spectacle during last week’s GOP presidential primary debate, where every one of the major candidates vowed out of hand essentially to reject any budget proposal that included tax hikes, underlined how the party is now ruled by dogma and talking points and unwilling to accept problem-solving as the main task of leadership and government.

Buffett mocks the GOP no-tax-ever stance as unserious fiscal policy and proposes a simple alternative. Make big cuts in federal spending, but also hike taxes on millionaires and hike taxes even higher on the super-rich.

“My friends and I have been coddled long enough…. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.”

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