The following is the full transcript of “The Buffett Rule: A Basic Principle of Tax Fairness,” a report by The National Economic Council presented April 9.
The Buffett Rule is the basic principle that no household making over $1 million annually should pay a smaller share of their income in taxes than middle?class families pay. Warren Buffett has famously stated that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary, but as this report documents this situation is not uncommon. This situation is the result of decades of the tax system being tilted in favor of high?income households at the expense of the middle class. Not only is this unfair, it can also be economically inefficient by providing opportunities for tax planning and distorting decisions. The President has proposed the Buffett Rule as a basic rule of tax fairness that should be met in tax reform. To achieve this principle, the President has proposed that no millionaire pay less than 30 percent of their income in taxes.
Why the Buffett Rule Is Needed
The average tax rate paid by the very highest?income Americans has fallen to nearly the lowest rate in over 50 years. The wealthiest 1?in?1,000 taxpayers pay barely a quarter of their income in Federal income and payroll taxes today — half of what they would have contributed in 1960. And, the top 400 richest Americans — all making over $110 million — paid only 18 percent of their income in income taxes in 2008.
Average tax rates for the highest income Americans have plummeted even as their incomes have skyrocketed. Since 1979 the average after?tax income of the very wealthiest Americans — the top 1 percent — has risen nearly four?fold. Over the same period, the middle sixty percent of Americans saw their incomes rise just 40 percent. The typical CEO who used to earn about 30 times more than his or her worker now earns 110 times more.
Some of the richest Americans pay extraordinarily low tax rates — as they hire lawyers and accountants to take particular advantage of loopholes and tax expenditures. The average tax rate masks the fact that some high?income Americans pay near their statutory tax rate, while others take advantage of tax expenditures and loopholes to pay extraordinarily low rates — and it is these high?income taxpayers that the Buffett rule is meant to address.
Of millionaires in 2009, a full 22,000 households making more than $1 million annually paid less than 15 percent of their income in income taxes — and 1,470 managed to paid no federal income taxes on their million?plus?dollar incomes, according to IRS data.
Of the 400 highest income Americans, one out of every three in this group of the most financially fortunate Americans paid less than 15 percent of their income in income taxes in 2008.
Many high?income Americans are paying less in taxes than middle class Americans in taxes. Nearly one?quarter of all millionaires (about 55,000 taxpayers) face a tax rate that is lower than more than millions of middle?income taxpayers. This is fundamentally unfair.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for comprehensive tax reform that cuts rates, cuts inefficient tax loopholes, cuts the deficit, increases job creation and growth, and sets out a very simple principle of fairness: No household making over $1 million annually should pay a smaller share of income in taxes than middle?class families pay. To achieve this, the President has proposed that no millionaire pay less than 30 percent of their income in taxes. Read