Ideally, if you’ve gotten permission from Warren Buffett to use his name to describe your tax plan, you want him to be affirmatively on board with all of it.
But asked by CNBC whether he supports President Obama’s tax plan, Buffett hedged quite a bit.
“Well, the precise program, I don’t know what their program will be,” Buffett said. “My program would be on the very high incomes that are taxed very low — not just high incomes…. If they make a lot of money and pay a low tax rate, like me, it would be changed by a minimum tax.”
Republican operatives are thrilled. And the White House is probably wishing they’d been able to coach Buffett a bit. But substantively it’s really not that big a deal.
Part of the issue here is that the “Buffett rule” is actually just a broad principle that any number of tax policies could fulfill: The tax code should be structured such that millionaires can’t — through loopholes, deductions and other advantages — enjoy a lower effective tax than middle class workers. Buffett suggests his specific policy would apply to people like himself who are allowed to count investment management income as capital gains and thus pay exceptionally low taxes.
Obama, by contrast, hasn’t laid out how his ideal “Buffett rule” would work.
Obama has separately, though, proposed raising taxes on people making more than $250,000 a year (both by increasing rates, and eliminating deductions). But that’s largely distinct from the Buffett rule, and thus Buffett wouldn’t comment.
“Does that mean you disagree with the president’s new jobs proposal which would be paid for by raising taxes on households with incomes of over $250,000?” CNBC asked.
“That’s another program I won’t be discussing,” Buffett said.
More accurately, Obama proposed that the deficit Super Committee figure out how to pay for his jobs bill — his tax plan would only cover the cost of it if the Super Committee fails.
Will the White House stop using Buffett’s name now? No way.
“Gene Sperling called and said, ‘can we use your name?’ I said, yes.” As for the jobs plan: “I am a supporter of the action he’s trying to get the Congress to join him in taking to really do something.”
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Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.