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Buffett's Op-Ed on Taxes Too Little, Too Late

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Warren Buffett's opinion article in The New York Times, in which he volunteered to pay higher taxes and said his super-rich friends would be willing to do the same, has become a rallying cry for average Americans fed up with partisanship in Congress that led to a downgrade of the country's coveted triple-A rating.

The only problem is that the billionaire investor's published view on tax breaks comes far too late after the debt-ceiling debate, and now Buffett's argument begs more questions about his timing, leadership and motivation.

Warren Buffett

While the rich have been "spared," as he put it, from the shared sacrifice thanks to tax breaks, Buffett points out the inequity in the fact that the poor and middle class have been fighting wars for the U.S. while tightening their own belts. Buffett says he would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including dividends and capital gains. Those who make $10 million or more would see an additional increase, according to Buffett's proposal.

For people mad as hell at the U.S. government for the embarrassing way it handled the debt-ceiling debate, Buffett's assertion that the super-rich would be amenable to paying higher taxes was downright cathartic. Facebook lit up Monday with shared links to Buffett's piece, "Stop Coddling the Super-Rich," while "Warren Buffett" himself became a trending topic on Twitter.

>>View Warren Buffett's Portfolio

As celebrated as Buffett's view is, much of it rings hollow. For one, if Buffett was taking advantage of tax breaks when paying his income tax, why couldn't he simply have ignored the exemptions on his taxable income? Buffett notes that he paid only 17.4% of his taxable income for 2010, well below the other 20 people in his office.

If he feels so guilty about the tax breaks he has exploited, and if his Giving Pledge philanthropy effort isn't enough, why doesn't Buffett simply cut a check for the U.S. government to pay down the debt? The Treasury Department is taking online donations to pay down the U.S. debt, so the Oracle of Omaha could throw a few million dollars at the debt from the comfort of his own home if he were truly serious about combating the country's fiscal woes.
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