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Buffett urges Congress to raise taxes on rich

Billionaire Warren E. Buffett urged Congress on Monday to raise taxes on the nation's wealthiest individuals to help cut the budget deficit, saying such an action won't inhibit investment or job growth.

"My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress," the chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway wrote in an opinion article in the New York Times.

"It's time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice."

Buffett's advocacy of higher taxes for the "mega-rich" may reinforce President Obama's call for an end to tax breaks for corporate-jet owners. In the opinion piece, the 80-year-old investor and chairman of The Buffalo News said his federal tax bill last year -- the income tax he paid and the payroll taxes paid by him and on his behalf -- was $6,938,744.

"That sounds like a lot of money," Buffett wrote. "But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income -- and that's actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent."

Buffett said that for those making more than $1 million -- there were 236,883 such households in 2009 -- he would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including dividends and capital gains. For the 8,274 taxpayers who made $10 million or more, he said they should face an additional increase in the tax rate.

"While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks," Buffett wrote.

He cited Internal Revenue Service data showing that the tax burden on the nation's wealthy had fallen for the past two decades. In 1992, the top 400 American earners had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal taxes of 29.2 percent on that amount, he wrote. In 2008, while the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to $90.9 billion, the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 percent.

Buffett said the notion that high taxes discourage hiring and investment is false. "I have worked with investors for 60 years, and I have yet to see anyone -- not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 -- shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain," he said.

"People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off," he said. "And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what's happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation."

Buffett noted that the mega-rich pay income taxes at a rate of 15 percent on most investment income but practically nothing in payroll taxes.

The middle class, meanwhile, typically falls into the 15 percent and 25 percent income-tax brackets and is hit with heavy payroll taxes. Buffett said Washington legislators "feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species."

He said he knows many of the mega-rich well, and most wouldn't mind paying more in taxes, especially with so many fellow citizens suffering with a 9.1 percent unemployment rate.

Buffett also recommended that the 12 members of Congress charged with devising a deficit-cutting plan leave income-tax rates unchanged for 99.7 percent of taxpayers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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