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Buffett says 'tax me.' Norquist says 'that's just silly'

Grover Norquist responded on Fox News to Warren Buffett's recent op-ed in The New York Times advocating for higher income tax rates and a minimum tax on top ear
Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett (Rick Wilking/Reuters)
Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett

Grover Norquist responded on Fox News to Warren Buffett's recent op-ed in The New York Times advocating for higher income tax rates and a minimum tax on top earners. Not surprisingly, the anti-tax crusader Norquist brushed off as "silly" the notion that raising taxes could help to reduce the deficit or curb increasing inequality.

In his op-ed, billionaire Buffett argued that marginal tax rates have never, in his experience, dissuaded anyone from a good business investment. In other words, investors aren't likely to pass on a killer opportunity because its gains will put them in a higher tax bracket. "Only in Grover Norquist's imagination," wrote Buffett, does such an investor exist.

Norquist doesn't believe that it's all in his head:

"If [Buffett] thinks that the government can take a dollar, and then you go to an investor who doesn’t have that dollar and it doesn’t affect investment--I’m sorry, that’s just silly," Norquist told Fox News on Monday. "When the government takes a dollar away from the American people, or a trillion dollars, that’s a trillion dollars not available to be saved and invested. And, I’m sorry if Buffett can’t see that, but that’s kind of silly on his part."

Norquist said nothing about where the American people's "dollar" would go once the government collects it as revenue.

For his part, Buffett entreated Norquist and his devotees to "forget about the rich and ultrarich going on strike and stuffing their ample funds under their mattresses if—gasp—capital gains rates and ordinary income rates are increased. The ultrarich, including me," Buffett wrote, "will forever pursue investment opportunities."

As we've reported, Buffett's longtime mission has been to disabuse lawmakers of the notion that the ultrarich have to be coddled and catered to. "My gang," Buffett wrote, referring to the Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans, "has been leaving the middle class in the dust."

Buffet supports President Obama's proposal to eliminate the Bush tax cuts for the highest income earners, which would bring the top rate back to 39.6 percent, though Buffet suggests that the bracket begin at $500,000 or $1 million instead of Obama's $250,000. But the Berkshire Hathaway CEO doesn't stop there. He also proposes a minimum tax:

We need Congress, right now, to enact a minimum tax on high incomes. I would suggest 30 percent of taxable income between $1 million and $10 million, and 35 percent on amounts above that. A plain and simple rule like that will block the efforts of lobbyists, lawyers and contribution-hungry legislators to keep the ultrarich paying rates well below those incurred by people with income just a tiny fraction of ours. Only a minimum tax on very high incomes will prevent the stated tax rate from being eviscerated by these warriors for the wealthy.

These are simple measures that can be legislated right away, Buffett says, warning against those who would use tax reform as an excuse, or a smokescreen, not to enact them. "We can’t let those who want to protect the privileged get away with insisting that we do nothing until we can do everything," he writes.

"Warren Buffett has made a lot of money, some of it off gaming the political system," Norquist said. "He invested in insurance companies, and then lobbies to raise the death tax, which drives people to buy insurance. Okay? You can get rich playing that game, but it’s mostly corrupt, it’s not investing, it’s playing crony politics and economics. That’s a shame."