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ThePlumLIneGS whorunsgov plumline
Posted at 12:47 PM ET, 09/30/2011

No, Warren Buffett didn’t disavow the `Buffett rule’

Let’s see if we can make this really simple. The American Jobs Act is a proposal that Obama laid out in early September that is meant to create jobs. The Buffett Rule is something else entirely. It is a general deficit reduction principle that Obama laid out a number of days after proposing the American Jobs Act. This principle, which has not been proposed in legislative detail, holds that millionaires should not pay a lower rate than middle class taxpayers.

The American Jobs Act and the Buffett Rule are not the same thing. Keep that in mind as we proceed here.

Today Warren Buffett went on CNBC and made a few remarks about both those things. He made a few remarks about the Buffett Rule. And then he made a few remarks about the American Jobs Act.

Republicans are now pouncing on Buffett’s remarks to argue that Buffett distanced himself from the Buffett rule. If true, that would be deeply embarrassing. And some news orgs, such as The Hill, are biting hard on the GOP’s argument. But it isn’t true.

Buffett did say he disagreed with “parts” of the American Jobs Act, and it’s fair game for Republicans to point that out, though it’s unclear which aspects of it he disagrees with. But he simply didn’t disavow the Buffett Rule:

First Buffett was asked if he agreed with the White House’s version of the Buffett Rule. Buffett replied:

I don’t know what their program will be. My program would be on the very high incomes that are taxed very low — not just high incomes. Some guy making 50 million playing baseball, his taxes won’t change. If you make 50 million dollars a year appearing on television, his income won’t change, but if they make a lot of money and they pay a very low tax rate, like me, it would be changed by a minimum tax that would only bring them up to what the other people pay .”

Buffett pointed out — accurately — that we don’t know the details of Obama’s Buffett Rule yet. But then he reiterated support for the general principle that rich people who are paying low taxes would be brought in line with what “other people” pay. And no, the claim that the athlete’s taxes won’t change is not inconsistent with the Buffett Rule either, as Pat Garofalo explains here.

To be fair, Obama has not released a detailed proposal for implementing the Buffett Rule that Buffett can agree or disagree with. We don’t know what Buffett will say if and when Obama releases such a proposal. But Buffett did voice support for the Buffett Rule on principle, as Obama has articulated it.

Warren was then asked: “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?” Despite the connection Buffett’s questioner tried to draw, that question is not a reference to the Buffett Rule. It s a reference to the American Jobs Act. Buffett replied:

“That’s another program that I won’t be discussing, but my program is to have a tax on ultra-rich people who are paying very low tax rates...I will look at the overall plan that gets submitted to Congress which they are voting on and decide net do I like it or do I not like it? There’s no question there will be parts I’ll disagree with.”

In other words, Buffett said he disagreed with the parts of the American Jobs Act. But Buffett himself drew a distinction between that and the Buffett Rule. And so it’s hard to see how these comments amount to disavowing the Buffett Rule. In fact, he didn’t do that at all.

By  |  12:47 PM ET, 09/30/2011

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