Omaha.com: Buffett urged: Release tax returns
Capitol Hill Republicans sure would like a peek at Warren Buffett's tax returns.
Omaha's famous billionaire investor has found himself at the heart of a fierce political debate over federal budget deficits, tax policy and income inequality, thanks to his outspoken advocacy that the super-rich should contribute more to fund government operations.
Buffett has stated that he pays a lower tax rate than any of the 20 other people in his office. President Barack Obama has called for tax reform to follow a “Buffett Rule” that “no household making over $1 million annually should pay a smaller share of its income in taxes than middle-class families pay.”
But Republican lawmakers are taking issue with Buffett's claims that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary and say they want to see what the Oracle of Omaha is turning in to the IRS.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., sent an open letter to Buffett on Thursday, calling for him to release his returns, given that Buffett's anecdote is being used to shape national tax policy.
“The simplest way to substantiate your claim is to publicly disclose your tax returns as soon as possible so that policymakers, and the American people who elect them, can properly determine their veracity,” he wrote. “If you were to come before any congressional committee and testify, any member of Congress would ask for the evidence to back up your claim — under oath.”
Buffett showed his tax return to TV interviewer Charlie Rose last month.
He told Rose he had $62 million in adjusted gross income and $39.8 million in taxable income after deductions. Buffett said he paid $6.9 million in taxes, a rate of 17.3 percent.
He has declined World-Herald requests for copies of his return. He could not be reached Thursday for comment.
Huelskamp said in his letter that Buffett's return is important because his story runs counter to available data about tax rates. The congressman suggested that Buffett is comparing apples to oranges if most of his money comes from capital gains.
“Regardless of the rate you pay for these sources of income, you are certainly paying a great deal more in taxes than nearly all Americans as a result of this income,” Huelskamp wrote. “Perhaps the assertion about paying a lower rate in taxes than your secretary is true, but it is certainly misleading.”
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, made similar points Thursday in an interview with ABC News.
“I know that Mr. Buffett's not likely to release his tax records, but I'll bet what it'll show you is that most of what he earns is from capital gains, which is taxed at a 15 percent tax rate, rather than deriving it as income, which he'd pay a much higher tax rate,” Cornyn said in the interview.
The interviewer pressed Cornyn on whether Buffett should give up those returns.
“If he's going to be the gold standard, so to speak, in terms of what our tax policy should be, yeah, let's look at them,” Cornyn said. “If he doesn't derive ordinary income and if all his, what he puts in his pocket, is based on capital gains, I think that would be important information.”
For a true examination of Buffett's claims, of course, one would also need to examine the tax returns of other people in his office.
His longtime assistant Debbie Bosanek could not be reached Thursday, but her outgoing voicemail message showed some humor over the national attention.
“This is Debbie Bosanek. I am out of the office for two weeks, taking advice from my tax consultant.”
World-Herald staff writer Steve Jordon contributed to this report.