Why Obama and Warren Buffett are suddenly best pals

First, President Obama seized upon populist comments by multibillionaire investor Warren Buffett to make his tax-the-rich proposal more palatable. Now, Buffett says he will attend an Obama fundraiser. He's becoming the poster boy for Obama's plans.

Nati Harnik/AP/File
Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, is calling on the so-called mega-rich to pay more in taxes.

The news on Wednesday that Warren Buffett will attend not one but two Obama fundraisers next month has linked the popular Omaha investor even more closely with the president, who has taken a decidedly more populist turn as of late.

In recent days, President Obama has been invoking Mr. Buffett's name as he touts his plan for reducing the deficit. He has labeled one plank of his proposal – to reduce the deficit by about $3 trillion over 10 years – the "Buffett rule," since it is inspired by a much-publicized New York Times op-ed that the billionaire penned last month.

In the op-ed, Buffett argued that he and his wealthy friends are taxed too little, often paying a lower overall rate than the majority of Americans. Mr. Obama cited Buffett on Monday in proposing a higher tax rate for Americans making more than $1 million.

"Explain why somebody who’s making $50 million a year in the financial markets should be paying 15 percent on their taxes, when a teacher making $50,000 a year is paying more than that, paying a higher rate,” Obama said in a Rose Garden address Monday, in a phrase that echoes Buffett's argument.

The move seems designed to energize Obama's disenchanted base, but it also risks alienating some independent voters – and opens up a line of reasoning that Democrats have largely avoided since Walter Mondale's failed 1984 presidential campaign. Already, GOP presidential candidates and members of Congress have jumped on Obama's proposal, with House Speaker John Boehner, among others, calling it "class warfare."

Buffett is scheduled to attend one fundraiser in Chicago and another in New York.

So, how will bringing Buffett and his ideas into the campaign shake things up? The "Sage of Omaha," known for his folksy style and frugality as well as his razor-sharp investment sense, has managed to retain enormous populist – and bipartisan – appeal even as he became the world's third-richest man.

In one 2008 presidential debate, both Obama and John McCain mentioned Buffett's name when asked to speculate about a future Treasury secretary – more an indication of the investor's broad popularity than his politics.

Buffett did endorse Obama in 2008 and contributed to his campaign. He is a registered Democrat and has long been associated with some Democratic causes.

But he was also an adviser to Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2003 during the Republican California governor's campaign, and part of his appeal may lie in his resistance to any partisan categorization.

At least a few pundits are speculating whether Buffett's involvement will do more to boost Obama's popularity or to tarnish Buffett's own reputation for being above the political fray. One thing is certain: Don't look for any of the Republican candidates to float the idea of a Treasury Secretary Buffett this time around.

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