After years of championing fairer (i.e., higher) taxes for America's richest people, billionaire Warren Buffett is suddenly involved in a major push to avoid paying them. Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway, is planning to finance 25 percent of the Burger King-Tim Hortons deal, according to The Wall Street Journal. In other words, Buffett will (indirectly) help Burger King become a Canadian company in order to escape America's higher corporate tax rates. That won't help the president's push to put an end to these corporate inversions.
While under current U.S. tax laws, this is a good investment for Berkshire, it looks to be at odds with its chairman's many comments over the years on the need for fairer tax rates. In 2012, he wrote an op-ed for The New York Times calling on Congress 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."
That same year he said it's a "myth" that American corporations are struggling under high corporate taxes. In 2013, when the capital gains tax rate rose from 15 percent to 20 percent, Buffett still complained that "I'll probably be the lowest paying taxpayer in the office." And for years he's been saying that his tax rate is much lower than his secretary's.
That secretary analogy helped inspire the White House's "Buffett Rule," or the idea that households making over $1 million a year shouldn't pay lower tax rates than families with lower incomes. As The Wall Street Journal explains, the rule would eliminate the tax breaks that help lower the effective tax rates of the rich.
And yet, this isn't the first time that Buffett has contradicted his "raise my tax rate" mantra. In March, he orchestrated a deal to lower taxes for his corporation Berkshire Hathaway. The corporation also has a history of failing to pay its taxes on time (think 9 years late), making"Warren Buffett, tax evader" a longstanding meme on conservative blogs.
Consider all of that, plus the fact that Buffett fundraised to help get President Obama re-elected, and the billionaire's role in the Burger King deal gets pretty embarrassing for a White House that's pushing back hard on the entire concept of inversions. Now might be a good time to give Tom Steyer a call.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.