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Buffett's Berkshire gets $29 billion boost from GOP tax bill

Warren Buffett meets with President Obama July 2011_Pete Souza
Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, meets with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office. Did this July 18, 2011, conversation lead to Obama's proposed Buffett Rule, a surtax on millionaires? (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

If you were wise or lucky enough to get a piece of Berkshire Hathaway, company chairman Warren Buffett has some good news for you.

Berkshire's gain in net worth last year was $65.3 billion.

And while the Oracle of Omaha deserves kudos for many things, Buffett says the real thanks regarding Berkshire Hathaway's recent financial uptick should go to the Republicans. Specifically, he points to the tax bill they pushed through Congress and into law at the end of 2017.

"A large portion of our gain did not come from anything we accomplished at Berkshire," wrote Buffett in his Feb. 24 annual letter to shareholders. "The $65 billion gain is nonetheless real – rest assured of that. But only $36 billion came from Berkshire’s operations. The remaining $29 billion was delivered to us in December when Congress rewrote the U.S. Tax Code."

Here's another number.

That federal tax windfall accounted for nearly 45 percent of the Omaha, Nebraska-based multinational conglomerate holding company's $65.3 billion profit.

That's why the $29 billion earns this week's By the Numbers honors.

In justifying the permanent tax breaks for companies during the bill's accelerated and abbreviated debate, Republicans argued that the tax reform will boost economic growth. We'll see if or how true that is.

But the Berkshire figures do appear to bolster the analysis from nonpartisan economists that the tax measure's biggest beneficiaries would be multinational corporations.

Individual tax winners, too: In addition to the corporate winners, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) also will give the wealthy owners of and investors in such companies big personal tax savings.

An analysis by the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan Washington, D.C. nonprofit tax policy think tank, noted that the TCJA's temporary tax breaks would reduce taxes on average for all income groups. But in general, according to TPC, higher-income households receive larger average tax cuts as a percentage of after-tax income, with the largest cuts as a share of income going to wealthier taxpayers.

In 2018, the first year that the new tax laws are in place, TPC estimates that the top 0.01 percent of earners would see their tax bills cut by an average of $193,380.

GOP TCJA tax cut distribution in

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, another D.C. nonpartisan tax nonprofit, came to the same tax cut distribution conclusion. The graphic above shows ITEP's calculations.

Similar findings also have been reached by groups directly connected to Capitol Hill.

Data from both the Joint Committee on Taxation, which has been providing Congress with tax bill revenue estimates since 1926, and the Congressional Budget Office, which produces independent analysis of the budgetary effects of legislation, indicate that wealthier Americans get more short- and long-term benefits from TCJA's provisions than do the bulk of U.S. taxpayers.

Buffett's tax dilemma: If you detect a hint of chagrin in Buffett's acknowledgement of how the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act benefited the company he has controlled since 1965, it's probably because he's long supported a tax code revision that would make him personally pay more taxes.

He was among a group of billionaires who supported Hillary Clinton, and her proposals to tax the rich more, during the 2016 presidential election.

And as the GOP tax plan started to take shape late last year, Buffett was critical of it, although he acknowledged it would be good for him and for his company.

In fact, he told CNBC that the new tax law is a "huge tailwind" for all businesses.

Long-time tax reform advocate: It was not the first time Buffett had taken an income tax stance. In 2011, he got lots of attention and criticism for his New York Times opinion piece in which he noted that his secretary paid a higher tax rate on her income than he did.

The reason for Buffett's tax break was that his employee paid ordinary tax rates on her salary, while he made most of his income from long-term investments.

Those investment earnings are taxed at substantially lower rates — 15 percent when Buffett wrote his article; it subsequently was increased to 20 percent for the wealthiest taxpayers — than the top regular income tax bracket.

Buffett's discussing of the income inequities in the tax code even led to the Buffett Rule. This Obama Administration proposal to make millionaires pay a tax rate of at least 30 percent got a lot of attention back in 2012, but was never acted on by Congress. 

Personal vs. professional: Of course, as a businessman, Buffett is able to separate the personal and professional.

That's why as chairman of Berkshire Hathaway he has always taken full advantage of the available corporate tax breaks.

And that's why, in order to keep his shareholders happy, he'll point out to them the TCJA benefits for Berkshire and definitely take last year's $29 billion and any other billions it might provide in the future.

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