Buffett secretary still talking point for Obama tax plans

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Warren Buffett's tax bracket might be used as a pawn in uncoming election. Photo via El Enigma Flickr commons.

Warren Buffett and Garrett Gruener have both made claims that they pay less in taxes. They say the government needs to increase the tax rate for millionaires. In Gruener’s case, he said in a L.A. Times article in 2010 that fluctuations in what he paid didn’t make any difference in “what I did with my money.”And  Buffett’s famous quote of his secretary paying more in taxes than he does, is still a headline grabber.

And the President, as well as the press, eagerly gobble it up.

A more correct statement would be that it is just a headline, a quip stated by the billionaire and latched onto by the President. A more cynical look at it is that it is a lie.

The truth is somewhere in between.


Several accountants were tasked by The Blaze to look at the facts in the matter. Some assumed the woman – there is no “actual” secretary involved – was single making $60,000 a year. Others pegged her as married and the sole earner, also at $60,000 a year.

The “bracket” a $60,000 salary would place the “secretary” in would be a 25% bracket. However, the effective tax rate would be between 7.5% and 14.4% (depending on the scenarios mentioned above).

With Mr. Buffett’s earnings tagged at about $46 million, the rich poster boy for the President’s tax agenda is at about a 15% effective tax rate.

Since there is no real secretary involved, and since the tax rates for the imaginary employee and Mr. Buffett are actually pretty close, with the billionaire actually paying more, it is hard to fathom why the President is still using this as a talking point. And why the media is not pressing the issue more closely.

The Blaze, a conservative news site founded, in part, by Bill O’Reilly, appears to be the only organization questioning the validity of these claims. Although, they are not the only ones who “investigated” Buffett’s secretary. The Atlantic’s Garance Franke-Ruta, and others, found the person to be a combination of many executive assistants, none of whom were talking.

However, the disclosure of these “facts” is not hampering groups like MoveOn.org from making the imaginary person a hallmark of the 2012 election cycle. Nor has it kept columnist such as The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein from waxing about “fairer taxes” that would make everyone pay their equal share, including billionaires and their “secretaries.”

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