Warren Buffett: Have I mentioned lately that my secretary's paying a higher tax rate than I am?

A patty-cake interview from ABC on the “Buffett Rule,” which will inevitably become the “Romney Rule” unless Newt pulls this off in Florida:


Buffett’s secretary since 1993, Debbie Bosanek, sat next to her boss just hours after being invited by the president to the State of the Union address, where the president made her the face of tax inequality in America.

Bosanek pays a tax rate of 35.8 percent of income, while Buffett pays a rate at 17.4 percent

He lashed out at assertions from many Republican leaders that the “Buffett rule” is class warfare.

“If this is a war, my side has the nuclear bomb,” Buffett said. “We have K Street. … We have Wall Street. Debbie doesn’t have anybody. I want a government that is responsive to the people who got the short straw in life.”

When they say she pays 35.8 percent of her “income,” I assume they mean “taxable income” (plus payroll taxes), not “adjusted gross income.” At least a dozen readers sent us links to this Forbes piece today alleging that Buffett’s secretary must make somewhere between $200,000 and $500,000 a year if she’s paying a higher effective tax rate than Buffett is. Problem is, the Forbes piece confuses AGI with taxable income in its calculations: Buffett pays an effective rate of 17.4 percent on his taxable income but just 11 percent on his AGI. And, as a fellow Forbes staffer points out in the comments over there, payroll taxes are included in Buffett’s calculations. Since those are capped at $15,300 regardless of income, they end up eating a much bigger proportion of the average working-class taxpayer’s income than a billionaire’s. (Tom Maguire is also skeptical of the Forbes piece.) Guesstimating the secretary’s income from her effective tax rate is beyond my mathematical ability (at least when I’m pressed for time), but there’s an easy way to settle the argument: Now that she’s at the heart of a national policy debate, have her declare her income so we can see just how representative she really is. The One wants to use her as a stand-in for blue-collar workers but there’s at least a chance that she meets the income threshold of “the one percent.” Good lord, let’s hope she does: Warren Buffett of all people can surely afford to pay his secretary lavishly. How about it?

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David Strom 4:30 PM | May 28, 2024