Republicans demand Buffett’s tax returns

Republicans demanded Thursday that billionaire investment guru Warren Buffett reveal his tax returns if his views on tax rates are going to serve as the basis for the White House’s proposals.

Buffett has loudly and famously said he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary in arguing that the rich should bear a larger tax burden. He has inspired President Obama to institute a “Buffett rule” to guide his tax policies that says millionaires and billionaires should not pay a lower portion of their income on taxes than the poor and middle class.

On a day when congressional Republicans and President Obama took their rhetorical jousting to new heights for this campaign cycle, GOP lawmakers repeatedly used Buffett as their foil.

“Will Warren Buffett release his tax returns so we can see why he should be the standard for tax policy?” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) questioned in a tweet Thursday.

“If he’s going to be the gold standard, so to speak, in terms of what our tax policy should be, yeah, let’s look at [his tax returns],” Cornyn told ABC News.

Freshman Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) sent an open letter to Buffett calling on the financial wizard to turn over his personal documents.

“Given the use of your name and your story as the guiding force for the president’s policy prescription, it is my hope that the evidence to justify such a change in policy will soon be available for public review,” Huelskamp wrote.

During a meeting of the deficit supercommittee, Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, cited statistics asserting that taxpayers with incomes over $1 million pay significantly higher average rates than do middle-class families.

“Frankly, Mr. Buffett needs to give his secretary a raise,” Camp said.

Republican strategist John Feehery (a columnist for The Hill) said Buffett made himself a target by bringing his own tax returns into the conversation, and then by letting Obama use him as an example.

“Buffett really has been attacking Republicans in many ways,” Feehery said. “Buffett can’t get away with hitting Republicans and not have someone counterpunch.”

Annoyance with Buffett in GOP circles has been building ever since he published an op-ed earlier this year calling on the administration to raise taxes on him and his “mega-rich” friends.

That irritation peaked this week with the introduction of the Buffett rule and new demands from Obama that the rich pay higher taxes.

Buffett’s ties to the administration don’t end with the tax plan. He is also helping the president fundraise for his reelection campaign, with two high-profile events scheduled in the next two months.  He also has become a vocal champion of the administration’s deficit-reduction goals.

Republicans such as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) have argued that the majority of Buffett’s income likely comes from capital gains, which is taxed at a 15 percent rate.

Supporters of a lower capital gains rate have long argued that such income has already been subject to a tax, and that it should not be subject to a second one. They also say a higher tax on such income would limit investment and venture capital, hurting the economy.

“I don’t think they’ve asked for something they know he won’t do,” Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak said. “Republicans are just saying, ‘OK, if he’s the standard, can we at least better understand this situation so we can judge it objectively?’ ”

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) floated the suggestion earlier this week that Buffett should release his financial information.

“I’d love to see Buffett’s tax returns so we can see what he’s really doing, because he’s kind of operating in the dark here, making some claims,” DeMint told Bloomberg Television.

Huelskamp and Cornyn said Buffett was unlikely to release the information.

“Buffett has bitten off more than he can chew; he’s afraid to show the proof,” said Huelskamp.

Buffett’s office could not be reached for comment.

Bernie Becker contributed.

This story was originally posted at 12:00 p.m. and updated at 8:11 p.m.

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