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Buffett Toys with Republicans on Taxes

He touts capitalism and its economic rewards while continuing to spar over what he says are tax inequities favoring the rich


In an August 2011 op-ed piece in the New York Times, Warren Buffett declared that wealthy Americans paid too little in taxes. The response to the piece was predictably partisan, with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) saying Buffett should feel free to “send in a check” to the U.S. Treasury to assuage his guilt. Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota) followed that up by introducing the “Buffett Rule Act,” which would allow rich folks to donate more in taxes to help pay down the national debt.

For an interview published in the new issue of Time magazine, Buffett told Rana Foroohar that Thune’s proposal was “a tax policy only a Republican could come up with.” If nothing else, Republican sparring on Buffett’s tax stance seems to have inspired the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A) to play along and up the ante. Buffett said would donate $1 toward paying down the national debt for every dollar donated by a Republican in Congress, and for McConnell, $3 for every $1 McConnell donates.

An aide to McConnell told Reuters that Buffett should consider expanding his matching offer to President Barack Obama and his Democrats.

“Senator McConnell says that Washington should be smaller, rather than taxes getting bigger,” Don Stewart, McConnell’s deputy chief of staff, told the news service. “And since some, like President Obama and Mr. Buffett want to pay higher taxes, Congress made it possible for them to call their own bluff and send in a check … so I look forward to Mr. Buffett matching a healthy batch of checks from those who actually want to pay higher taxes, including Congressional Democrats, the President and the Democratic National Committee.”

Of course, even if Buffett were to call his own bluff and match donations from Obama and the Dems on the Hill, it seems unlikely he’d feel much of a pinch, since he could cover the cost with the loose change in his sock drawer. Buffett goes out of his way to cheerlead for capitalism in the interview, but says inequities in the current tax code will, in the long term, undermine the overall economy. “We need a tax system,” he told Time, “that takes very good care of people who just really aren’t as well adapted to the market system and to capitalism but are nevertheless just as good citizens and are doing things that are of use in society.”

— Richard Defendorf, staff

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