The U.S. tax code today is very, very progressive. It’s gotten more so over time. To be in the top 1 percent of taxpayers, you have to earn at least $345,000. The taxpayers in this group pay 40 percent of all federal income taxes, and 28 percent of total federal taxes. They face an average effective income tax rate of 19 percent, and an average total tax rate of 30 percent.
So the Buffett Rule is a solution in search of a problem. If the goal is a very progressive tax system, where the very wealthy pay much more in taxes (and a much higher percentage of their income in taxes) than middle-class families and the poor, we’re already there. The lower half of the country pays almost nothing in taxes.
Guilty high income liberals like Warren Buffett can make a voluntary payment to the Treasury today, but almost no one wants to put their money where their mouth is. Newspaper reports suggest Warren Buffett is actually in court trying to pay less in taxes than the Obama IRS says he owes. To make this easier, Congressman Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) have introduced the “Buffett Rule Act” to create a line on the 1040 tax form to make extra payments in taxes for those who claim to be undertaxed.
The real Buffett Rule already exists in eight states where people like Warren Buffett can pay more if they truly wish to. They’re referred to as Tax-Me-More-Funds, which allow those who feel insufficiently taxed to send more money to their state treasury. Massachusetts led the way in developing a Tax-Me-More-Fund at the turn of the century. After Bay State voters passed a 2000 referendum to lower income taxes, the Massachusetts legislature added a checkbox to state tax forms that allows the taxpayer to decide which tax rate to pay.
While President Obama is trying to raise federal taxes on small businesses with the Buffett Rule, California Gov. Jerry Brown is trying to do the same at the state level. Like Obama with Buffett, Brown likes to point to wealthy Californians who claim they want their taxes raised. Brown recently boasted that he talked to liberal political activist/Hollywood producer Rob Reiner and that Reiner told Brown he is “very excited about paying more taxes.” Oddly, Reiner wasn’t excited enough to support legislation introduced a few years ago by Republican state legislators that would have allowed him to send more money to Sacramento anytime he pleases.
The Buffett Rule is a political scam. It pretends that America’s tax system is skewed toward “the rich,” when it is, in fact, almost only high income taxpayers who pay taxes at all. The facts refuting the Buffett Rule are readily-available for anyone to see.
Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform and Ellis is the organization’s tax policy director. You can follow them on Twitter: @GroverNorquist and @taxplaya.