AP Fact Check: No, Warren Buffett's Secretary Doesn't Pay a Higher Tax Rate Than He Does

In other words, Obama’s plan isn’t math. It’s class warfare.

In his White House address Monday, Obama called on Congress to increase taxes by $1.5 trillion as part of a 10-year deficit reduction package totaling more than $3 trillion. He proposed that Congress overhaul the tax code and impose what he called the “Buffett rule,” named for billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

The rule says, “People making more than $1 million a year should not pay a smaller share of their income in taxes than middle-class families pay.”

“Warren Buffett’s secretary shouldn’t pay a higher tax rate than Warren Buffett. There is no justification for it,” Obama said. “It is wrong that in the United States of America, a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker who earns $50,000 should pay higher tax rates than somebody pulling in $50 million.”

Buffett wrote in a recent piece for The New York Times that the tax rate he paid last year was lower than that paid by any of the other 20 people in his office.

This year, households making more than $1 million will pay an average of 29.1 percent of their income in federal taxes, including income taxes and payroll taxes, according to the Tax Policy Center, a Washington think tank.

Households making between $50,000 and $75,000 will pay 15 percent of their income in federal taxes.

Lower-income households will pay less. For example, households making between $40,000 and $50,000 will pay an average of 12.5 percent of their income in federal taxes. Households making between $20,000 and $30,000 will pay 5.7 percent.

The latest IRS figures are a few years older — and limited to federal income taxes — but show much the same thing. In 2009, taxpayers who made $1 million or more paid on average 24.4 percent of their income in federal income taxes, according to the IRS.

Those making $100,000 to $125,000 paid on average 9.9 percent in federal income taxes. Those making $50,000 to $60,000 paid an average of 6.3 percent.


Common sense should tell us that, even if Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary (which he probably doesn’t), he is paying more in actual dollars for the simple reason that 20% of, say, $50 million is more money than 25% of $100,000 or whatever he pays his secretary. The US has a progressive tax system, though, which means the rich pay higher rates than everyone else. It has been that way for decades, as President Obama and Warren Buffett either know or ought to know.

That the tax code is riddled with deductions for high earners, and based on how money is earned, might be a good argument for a flat tax. But Obama isn’t making that argument. He is arguing for higher taxes on some people, and for higher taxes on some industries, in the name of “fairness.” That’s class warfare.


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