Billionaire investor Warren Buffett appeared on CNBC today, where, of course, he was asked about the Obama administration’s “Buffett rule,” which stipulates that millionaires should not pay a lower tax rate than middle-class families. Buffett said he is happy to have lent his name to the administration’s push:
Q: Are you happy you said yes [to having your name on the Buffett rule]?
BUFFETT: Sure, I wrote about it.
Q: Are you happy with the way it’s been described? Is the program that the White House has presented — a million dollars and over — your program?
BUFFETT: Well, the precise program, I don’t know what their program will be. My program will be on the very high incomes that are taxed very low. Not just high incomes, some guy making $50 million a year playing baseball, his taxes won’t change. Make $50 million a year appearing on television, his income won’t change. But if they make a lot of money and they pay a very low tax rate, like me, it would be changed by a minimum tax that would only bring them up to what other people pay.
Somehow, the media (goaded by Republican misinformation?) have taken this to mean that Buffett does not support the Buffett rule, which is only a principle and not, at the moment, a specific proposal. But Buffett was asked repeatedly if he disagreed with the rule and never said that he did — he merely pointed out that the specific idea he has been promoting, from which the Buffett rule grew out of, is a minimum tax rate for the ultra-wealthy.
Some seem to be tripped up by Buffett’s saying that an athlete making $50 million wouldn’t see his or her taxes go up. But that’s entirely consistent with the Buffett rule, since wages that athletes earn are taxed as income (at 35 percent), not as an investment (and therefore at 15 percent) like much of Buffett’s income. It’s that break on investment income that, in large part, allows the wealthy to pay lower tax rates
Later in the interview, Buffett explained that he is not sure that he will support everything in the American Jobs Act, President Obama’s plan to spur job creation. But that was distinct from the question regarding the Buffett rule. When he was asked if he disagreed with the President’s plan to raise taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year (which has nothing to do with the Buffett rule), Buffett said “no, no, no, no.”
Buffett also said he is “supportive of the action” Obama is trying to take to put people back to work. So for those trying to turn this into a “Buffett v. Obama” story, as Mitt Romney would say, “nice try.”
TPM lays out how the false version of the Buffett story spread on Twitter.