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Obama’s 2011 tax returns show he paid a 20.5 percent effective rate amid ‘Buffett Rule’ fight

Olivier Knox, Yahoo News
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President Barack Obama (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Amid an election-year feud over tax policy, President Barack Obama on Friday released his 2011 tax filings, showing that he paid $162,074 in total taxes on adjusted gross income of $789,674, an effective rate of 20.5 percent. The first couple paid $31,941 in Illinois income tax.

Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, whose joint return was posted on the White House website, also reported giving $172,130 to 39 different charitiesan additional 21.8 percent of their adjusted gross income. Their top recipient, receiving $117,130, was Fisher House Foundation, which provides free or inexpensive housing to veterans and military families receiving care at military medical facilities.

White House spokesman Jay Carney seized on the annual ritual to make the case for the so-called "Buffett Rule" legislation that aims to raise taxes on the very richest Americans in order to ensure they do not pay a lower rate than middle-class filers. Obama has used the measure as a political cudgel to assault presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who has dismissed the proposal as a campaign gimmick.

The Buffett Rule is named after billionaire financier Warren Buffett, who has said that he pays a lower effective tax rate than his secretary.

"The president believes we must reform our tax system, which is why he has proposed policies like the Buffett Rule that would ask the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share," Carney said.

As an experiment, Yahoo News turned to the Obama campaign's Buffett Rule calculator and located the annual salary in 2011 of the president's personal secretary, Anita Decker Breckenridge, on the White House's public report on pay in the West Wing. The calculator is an oversimplified tool, but it reported that married filers with that income would typically pay an effective rate of 20.9 percent (a hair above Obama's 20.5 percent), while filers married with children would pay 17.6 percent (somewhat less than the married-with-children president). While we know Breckenridge is married, without data like her husband's income, the calculator's information is chiefly for entertainment purposes. Putting the Obamas' information into the calculator generates the message "Tax rates at the salary you entered vary significantly based on the level and nature of investment income, as well as other factors."
Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said the former governor had filed an extension on his 2011 tax return and would make his information public "sometime in the next six months, and prior to the election."

Romney's 2010 filing showed he paid an effective tax rate of 13.9 percent on income of $21.7 million. The 2011 estimate shows he expects to pay roughly $3.2 million, for an effective rate of about 15.4 percent. In 2010, Romney gave about $3 million to charity, 14 percent of his income.

The Obama campaign doubled down on the political dimension, releasing Obama's tax returns from 2000 to today, part of an effort to force Romney to disclose his own filings.

"On the eve of April 17th, Governor Romney has yet to provide tax returns from the period in which he made hundreds of millions as a corporate buyout specialist, or as governor of Massachusetts, the experience he says qualifies him to be president," said Obama campaign manager Jim Messina. "What does he have to hide?"

Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, also released their 2011 tax returns. They reported adjusted gross income of $379,035 and paid $87,900 in total federal tax, for an effective rate of 23 percent.

Update, 5:44 p.m.: This post has been updated to reflect Romney's decision to file an extension on his tax filing.

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