OMAHA, Neb. – With billionaire investor Warren Buffett looking on, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said Wednesday she wants to raise taxes on the wealthy and expand upon the so-called “Buffett rule” pushed by the Obama administration to raise tax rates on the richest Americans.
“I want to go even further, because Warren is 100 per cent right, as usual,” Clinton said at a rally in Omaha, Nebraska, that featured a public endorsement from Buffett, the famed investor and one of the wealthiest people in America. “I want to be the president for the struggling, the striving and the successful.”
Introducing Clinton, Buffett offered a litany of statistics describing a growing chasm between the nation’s rich and poor, lamenting, “Millions and millions and millions of Americans have been left behind.” Buffett was the namesake for the push by the Obama administration to seek a tax rate of 30 per cent on those earning $1 million or more.
The so-called “Oracle of Omaha” said he would be “delighted” if Clinton takes the oath of office, asserting that she will not forget about middle-class Americans. Buffett said he had watched all of the Republican presidential debates but Clinton was a better choice for voters. “You know, I used to love Abbott and Costello,” he said. “Vaudeville was never this good,” he added, suggesting the GOP debates have been comedy.
In her primary campaign against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton has pushed back against concerns among some liberals that her time in the Senate representing New York left her too close to Wall Street bankers — a notion that Buffett’s appearance was aimed at allaying.
Republicans sought to brand her as a tax-and-spend liberal, unsympathetic to the economic pains of everyday American families.
“Hillary Clinton’s economic agenda is more about redistribution than growth,” said Republican National committee spokesman Michael Short, in a statement. “Campaigning with the third richest person on the planet is an odd way to communicate that she understands and cares about the needs of millions of Americans.”
Clinton aides said she would provide more details in the new year on how she would push for higher taxes on the wealthy beyond the framework of the “Buffett rule.” Some of her signature domestic spending proposals, including plans to curb student debt and rebuild roads and bridges, would be paid for by raising taxes on the wealthy.
The high-profile event came a day after Clinton described her strategy to combat domestic terrorism, an issue in the spotlight since the deadly attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California. While she largely ignored Tuesday night’s Republican debate, Clinton indicated that a combination of policies addressing the economy and homeland security would be central in her campaign.
The Omaha rally brought Clinton to deep-red Nebraska, which is holding its caucus March 5, prompting her to joke that local Democrats should tell their Republican friends, “I don’t have horns.” The message could resonant in neighbouring Iowa, where Clinton is trying to defeat Sanders in the opening Democratic contest on Feb. 1.
Buffett has referred to Clinton as a “hero of mine” in the past and predicted last year that she would succeed President Barack Obama, whom he also supported.
Democrats say Buffett carries a rare dual appeal on Wall Street and Main Street. The investment guru’s annual shareholder meeting is dubbed “Woodstock for Capitalists” and drew an overflow crowd of more than 40,000 people from around the globe last spring.
“What he brings to the table is that he’s one of the few highly-respected business people who average people view as one of them,” said Marc Lasry, a New York hedge fund manager and Democratic donor, in an interview. “He’s liked by lots of different kinds of people.”
Buffett supported Clinton’s first Senate campaign in 2000, raised money for her presidential campaign in 2008 and later endorsed Obama and appeared at fundraisers for the president. Buffett joined Clinton at an Omaha fundraiser earlier in the morning.
The chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. has long voiced his displeasure with the growth of unlimited money in politics and the emergence of the super PACs. But he made his first donation to a super PAC last year, giving $25,000 to the pro-Clinton Ready for Hillary group, raising hopes among some Democrats that he might open his wallet again and in an even bigger way.
Clinton ended the day with two town hall meetings in Iowa, where she frequently nodded her head in agreement as three supporters in Mason City urged attendees to caucus for her on Feb. 1.
Earlier, at a church in Iowa City, Clinton gushed about her 14-month-old granddaughter, Charlotte. “She’s in love with Elmo. She is so delicious. My husband and I are head over heels crazy about her,” she said.
One questioner offered her an unusual choice: Would she rather be president or pop singer Beyonce? Clinton joked that she’d “rather be president because I can’t sing.”
But she promised, “I will be as good a president as Beyonce is a performer.”
Associated Press writer Julie Bykowicz in Las Vegas and Catherine Lucey in Iowa City, Iowa, contributed to this report.
On Twitter, follow Ken Thomas: https://twitter.com/KThomasDC