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The person whom Clinton should invite as her guest at next week’s debate: Warren Buffett

A major theme of mine in my posts at AB for a while now has been to try to highlight disclosures about Trump that have been overshadowed by others but that are important for more reasons than the most obvious one.

During Sunday’s debate Trump shocked me (and I’m sure, Clinton) when he claimed that billionaire Clinton supporters Warren Buffett and George Soros had used the same tax breaks as he had in carrying over massive business losses from one year to claim massive tax deductions for many years to come—and that Buffett’s and Soros’s losses and consequent deductions were much larger than his own.

Partly, I was stunned because I know that Trump’s ability to use the tax code in that way stems from a combination of depreciations allowed on real estate holdings—something that Trump mentioned at the debate by saying something like “A lot of it is depreciation.  I love depreciation.”

But even more relevant to Trump’s carryover deduction of that one-year $916 million loss onto his federal income tax returns for two years prior and 15 years afterward is that Trump’s holdings apparently are mostly in LLCs, partnerships, and S corporations—the three business structures that under the tax code allow for “pass-throughs” for losses, from the businesses to the individual’s tax liability—or lack thereof by converting business losses into individual ones.  Buffett’s personal portfolio surely is diversified, but his income from ongoing businesses still comes probably mainly from his holdings in Berkshire Hathaway, which is neither an LLC, nor a partnership, nor an S corporation.

But what made me gasp—literally—was that Trump was claiming to have seen Buffett’s and Soros’s individual tax returns.

On Monday Buffett set the record straight. The Washington Post’s Max Ehrehnfrend wrote Monday in a report titled “Donald Trump tried to call out Warren Buffett. He probably didn’t expect this response.”:

In any case, since Trump was able to claim that he was $916 million poorer, the Internal Revenue Service would not have forced him to pay taxes on any income for at least 15 years until he had made up that loss. A loss that is counted against future income is sometimes called a “carry forward.”

Trump said that such maneuvers were common, mentioning several wealthy donors supporting his Democratic rival.

“Many of her friends took bigger deductions,” the Republican nominee said. “Warren Buffett took a massive deduction.”

It was not clear what deduction of Buffett’s Trump meant, but Buffett’s statement Monday made clear he had never counted losses from past years against his personal income.

“I have paid federal income tax every year since 1944, when I was 13. (Though, being a slow starter, I owed only $7 in tax that year,)” Buffett wrote. “I have copies of all 72 of my returns and none uses a carryforward.” …

There are several reasons that Buffett might never have used a carry forward, although he did not provide any details in his statement. It is possible that Buffett, renowned for his acumen as an investor, simply has never lost enough money in one year.

Also, as a shareholder in his corporation, Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett would not be able to count any losses against his personal income because his assets are in a different legal category than Trump’s.

Trump and his allies have implied that there was nothing out of the ordinary about his $916 million loss. Yet the contrast with Buffett is a reminder that the benefits Trump claimed might well have been unavailable to most taxpayers — although, without more information from his returns, it is impossible to know which provisions of the tax code he exploited and how much money they saved him.

As a real estate developer, Trump probably owned his properties through legal entities that would have allowed him to claim losses against his personal income, rather than against corporate income.

Elsewhere I read that based upon the nature of Buffett’s businesses and of Soros’s, it’s extremely unlikely that either of them ever used the tax write-offs that Trump did in computing their individual tax liability.

I know that this isn’t sex tapes—Trump’s or erroneously-allegedly a former Miss Universe’s.  But Trump completely fabricated specific allegations: that he had seen the individual tax returns of two individuals and that they had suffered larger business losses than Trump’s in 1995 and had used those to write off personal income that, even had those business losses occurred, would have been unavailable to them as individual federal income tax deductions.

And it also showed something else that Trump is lying about: that he actually knows the ins and outs of the federal income tax code.  Obviously, he knows even less than I do about it.  Which is saying that he actually knows next to nothing about it, beyond what’s directly relevant to his own income tax liability and that of his businesses’.

So I suggest that Clinton invite Warren Buffett as an honored guess at next week’s debate.  A front-row seat for him would be nice.

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Clinton Announces When She Will Disclose Her Healthcare Insurance Improvement Plan: She’ll announce it just as soon as the Republican presidential candidates tell us theirs. [Typo in sentence referencing Max Ehrenfreund’s Wonkblog post corrected 3/2 at 2:28 p.m.]

Paul Krugman has been incessantly complaining about some Sanders supporters who accuse him and other high-profile Sanders critics, especially academics, of conflict of interest. The Sanders supporters allege all manner of self-interested reasons for the Sanders animus, much of it (including Krugman’s) expressed with vitriol.

I’m not among the Sanders supporters who subscribe to the academics-who-want-a-position-in-the-Clinton-White-House general theory.  And making that charge against Krugman is ridiculous.  But there is one virulently anti-Sanders healthcare economist who I’m betting is motivated exactly by personal ambition: Emory University’s Kenneth Thorpe.*

Thorpe, a Clinton administration healthcare official, gets his Sanders’-single-payer-critique cred because he worked on the failed Vermont single-payer plan.  Just before it was about to begin being implemented last year, the governor, a supporter of the plan, agreed to kill it because it became clear that its costs would significantly exceed former projections.

Weirdly, the failure of the Vermont plan is used, by Thorpe and others, as evidence that single-payer could not be cost-effective nationally.  As if the tiny state of Vermont has the same contractual bargaining power, regulatory power, medical training funding power, and any other relevant power as the federal government has.

Thorpe recently made big news with a report that deconstructed the Sanders plan as little more than witchcraft in its cost savings and costs overall and in its costs to this or that entity—the federal government, the states, etc.  But in a January 29 response published at Huffington Post, two healthcare economists, David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler—both with credentials at least as impressive as Thorpe’s—deconstructed the Thorpe deconstruction as, well, odd in light of certain facts.  Including several that Thorpe earlier had used.

Not to worry.  Thorpe last week came up with a new headline grabber, this one likely intended to respond to us Sanders supporters who think Sanders would do better in November against Trump than Clinton would.  (Or, it now seems likely, courtesy largely of elderly and middle-aged Southern African-Americans, will.)  It is an issue that this week has become red hot now that Trump is the probable Republican nominee.  And as of this week we Sanders supporters are no longer alone in thinking that Clinton is not quite the perfect candidate to compete against Trump.  According to the NYT, the Clinton campaign itself now shares our concern.

The Washington Post Wonkblog writer Max Ehrenfreund on February 25 summarized Thorpe’s headline grabber thusly:**

Sanders estimates a middle-class family of four would pay an annual premium of $466 under his plan, with no deductible or co-pays. Less affluent households would pay less than that, or nothing at all.

But for at least 72 percent of households enrolled in Medicaid — in which someone is working — the costs of Sanders’s plan would exceed the benefits, according to an analysis by Kenneth Thorpe, a public-health expert at Emory University.

That figure includes 5.7 million households, or 14.5 million people — among them, 4.2 million Hispanic recipients and 2.5 million black recipients. The requirements for eligibility for Medicaid vary widely by state, so that group includes some households living in poverty as well as some that are modestly better off.

How? Well:

“The vast majority of low-income Medicaid workers, who are probably predominantly minority, are going to end up paying more in terms of payroll taxes, and aren’t going to receive really any financial benefits,” said Thorpe, a former Clinton administration health official.

Many lower-income people are already insured or eligible for insurance under Medicaid, at least in the states that expanded the program under President Obama’s health-care reform. Many Medicaid beneficiaries also work, and those workers’ wages would likely decline due to the additional 6.2 percent payroll tax the proposal would levy on their employers.

The lengthy blog post is titled “Study: Bernie Sanders’s health plan is actually kind of a train wreck for the poor.”

That, presumably, is because of course Sanders could not, or at least would not, tweak the plan to remove the payroll tax for people who qualify for Medicaid under current federal law.  Because although the ACA is a very complex and very lengthy statute that took a year of drafting and amending to finalize, Sanders surely has thought of every possible issue and when that one came up he simply said, “Too bad.”

Sort of like Hillary Clinton, who regularly professes plans to build on Obamacare and move toward universal coverage for all—$10,000 deductibles?  No prob.—but who never hints at what her building plans are, and, curiously, is never asked.  Not by the likes of Thorpe or Krugman.  And not by the likes of anyone else I know of.

But she’s definitely working on a plan for that move-toward-universal-coverage thing, and, as with the release of the transcripts of her highly-compensated speeches to large finance-industry and other big-corporate players, she’ll give us a hint about how she plans to do that the very minute after the Republican presidential candidates outline their plans to move toward universal healthcare coverage.

Or instead, she could refer us to Thorpe.  Since he will again be a healthcare official in the Clinton administration.

*This entire paragraph was inadvertently deleted before the post was published. So now it’s back.  And the post makes sense!


UPDATE:  Reader J.Goodwin and I just exchanged these comments in the Comments thread:


March 1, 2016 6:08 pm

Is there a reason we should anticipate that it would be significantly different than the Health Security Act?

I.e. larger federal subsidies and a stronger employer mandate than the ACA?



March 1, 2016 6:54 pm

I think it wouldn’t be anything at all, J.Goodwin. I think it’s outrageous of her to keep saying generically that she wants to build on the ACA without saying what she wants to do, yet criticize Sanders for his plan.

And I think it’s outrageous of the Hillary shillary economists brigade–Thorpe, but Krugman too, and probably others–for not mentioning that she has said nothing at all about what she has in mind, yet keeps saying she has, well, something in mind.

Then again, I don’t know why Sanders hasn’t pointed out that she’s taking a page out of the Republican playbook: just keep saying you plan to do something about the uninsured; just don’t say what that is.

Added 3/1 at 6:59 p.m.


**Sentence edited and separated from preceding paragraph, to make sense. 3/2 at 2:19 p.m.

Gotta tell ya, Microsoft updated its Office 365 last week, and since then I’ve had nothing but big problems trying to write anything using Word.  With this post, two main parts were just missing from the post by the time I pasted it into AB’s new-post function. There was the mysteriously deleted paragraph that I reinserted last night, and there was a sentence between this now-edited one and the preceding paragraph, and they were two separate paragraphs, as they are now.

This post is not the only thing that the Word update has made very hard for me to write.  I am not happy about this, and do not look forward to calling Microsoft and having them FIX THE SETTINGS SO THAT I CAN USE WORD AGAIN.

Okay. Rant done.  Now back to trashing pols and economists.

I’m very grateful to Yves Smith for reposting this post at Naked Capitalism this morning, and I’ve now posted the following comment to the repost there:


“… Not to worry.  Thorpe last week came up with a new headline grabber, this one likely intended to respond to us Sanders supporters who think Sanders would do better in November against Trump than Clinton would.  (Or, it now seems likely, courtesy largely of elderly and middle-aged Southern African-Americans, will.)  It is an issue that this week has become red hot now that Trump is the probable Republican nominee.  And as of this week we Sanders supporters are no longer alone in thinking that Clinton is not quite the perfect candidate to compete against Trump.  According to the NYT, the Clinton campaign itself now shares our concern.

“The Washington Post Wonkblog writer Max Ehrenfreund on February 25 summarized Thorpe’s headline grabber thusly:”

I just corrected the original post at Angry Bear and added a note at the bottom raging about Microsoft’s update to Office 365 that has caused big, big problems for me in drafting anything in Word.  In this case it mysteriously deleted an entire paragraph, which I reinserted last night, and also a sentence that had prefaced the one mentioning Ehrenfreund’s blog post and making clear that his post was about Thorpe’s latest attempt to take down Sanders’ healthcare plan, not about the Clinton campaign’s concerns about the strength of Trump’s candidacy and problems with her own.

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