If Warren Buffett Wants a Bigger Tax Bill, 'Why Doesn't He Just Send His Money to Washington?'

Warren Buffett
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Warren Buffett

When Warren Buffett says he and his "super-rich" friends should be paying more in taxes, a call he's made many times over the years, there's often this response from opponents of any tax increases: 'If you think you should be paying more in taxes, why don't you send a billion or two (or more) to Washington on your own?'

Today, Buffett had an op-ed in the New York Times urging a "billionaire-friendly Congress" to stop "coddling" the super-rich and "get serious about shared sacrifice."

He points out, as he has before, that last year his tax bill came to 17.4 percent of his taxable income, "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."

Why the disparity? Buffett writes:

"The mega-rich pay income taxes at a rate of 15 percent on most of their earnings (capital gains and dividends) but pay practically nothing in payroll taxes. It’s a different story for the middle class: typically, they fall into the 15 percent and 25 percent income tax brackets, and then are hit with heavy payroll taxes to boot."

On MSNBC's Morning Joe today, a "fed up" Pat Buchanan deliveredthis challenge:

"Why doesn’t he set an example and send a check for $5 billion to the federal government? He’s got about $40 billion... You get all this noise from these big rich folks. Let them send checks and set an example instead of writing op-eds."

It's a question often asked accusingly by Buffett Watchreaders when they write a comment about one of the many posts over the years on Buffett's "tax the super-rich" stance. They often note that Buffett is giving billions to the Gates Foundation. Why doesn't he send the money to the U.S. Treasury instead?

Here's a typical Buffett response to that question, from a 2007 interview with CNBC's Becky Quick. Buffett had stirred debate on the issue by arguing at a Hillary Clinton fund-raiser (she was running for president at the time) that he shouldn't have a lower tax rate than his secretary.

Becky: OK, there were a couple of emails that came in that people that said if you think the government should be able to tax more money, why don't you just give your money away to the government instead of charity.

Buffett: Well, that's a choice and it's an option that... If I had to give it to a single individual, or make some young Buffett a multi-billionaire, or give it to the government, I'd absolutely give it to the government. I think that on balance the Gates Foundation, my daughter's foundation, my two sons' foundations, will do a better job with lower administrative costs and better selection of beneficiaries than the government.

All this will probably be one topic of conversation when Buffett appears on Charlie Rosethis evening (Monday.)

In the meantime, our comments section below is now open for business.

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