Once Upon a Time, Warren Buffett Was Barack Obama’s Favorite Billionaire

He never should have been, of course, but never mind that for a moment. Focus instead on the fact that Warren Buffett just made life very inconvenient for a White House that professed to venerate his every word, thought, gesture and action:

The White House might need a new poster child for its “tax fairness” campaign.

Famed billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who President Barack Obama has lauded and named a signature proposal after, is helping finance a deal that would allow Burger King Worldwide to reincorporate in Canada and potentially reduce its U.S. tax bill through a so-called inversion, the Journal reported late Monday.

One of the White House’s top economic priorities this fall is to deter companies from pursuing inversions, and Treasury Department officials are designing plans that would remove some of the incentives for these deals.

Mr. Obama and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew have spoken disparagingly about companies that use inversions. Mr. Obama in July called inversions an “unpatriotic tax loophole” and said “my attitude is I don’t care if it’s legal, it’s wrong.”

It even published a blog post titled “what are inversions and why should you care.”

Now that Mr. Buffett’s involvement in a possible inversion has been made public, will Mr. Obama and other Democrats take him to task? That might be awkward, given how the Obama administration has named one of their top tax proposals after the “Oracle of Omaha” himself.

Stephen Bainbridge has fun with this entire issue. And well he should:

What can we infer from this? I must admit at the outset that I’m no fan of Buffett’s professed politics (or somewhat odd personal life), so I’m biased and I’d be interested to know what a Buffett fan like Larry Cunningham thinks, but here’s my take:

  1. Like a lot of (all?) limousine liberals, Buffett is happy to support tax increases because he knows they won’t really affect him. Billionaires can hire as many $1000/hour tax lawyers as they need to run tax avoidance devices–like corporate tax inversions–that are simply unavailable to the middle class. We can’t afford their high priced lawyers or their complex strategies, so we get screwed while they get a free pass. Leona Helmsley was right: “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.” Buffett’s too smart to say so, but ….
  2. Politics is one thing but profit is another. Buffett was perfectly willing to throw both Obama and Buffett’s own tax blathering under the bus when it suited him.
  3. Obama’s going to need a new favorite billionaire until such time as Buffett makes nice by helping to finance Obama’s presidential library.

And a question: Will the Occupy Wall Street types calling for a Burger King boycott now try to boycott Berkshire Hathaway? I doubt it, mainly because I doubt whether they’re capable of figuring out what Berkshire Hathaway does.

Pass the popcorn.