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Buffett's 'coddled' column draws reaction from some wealthy Americans

Bruton Smith doesn't feel coddled.

Not like billionaire Warren Buffett, who thinks tax laws let wealthy Americans off easy.

"If he wants to just send more money, he can write a check," says Smith, a Republican and chairman and CEO of Speedway Motorsports. "... He should sit down and shut his mouth."

Buffett's suggestion this week that the rich are "coddled" by a "billionaire-friendly Congress" sparked a national debate and set off a firestorm of criticism from Republicans and others, including some wealthy Charlotteans.

"For him to say what he said I think is full of crap," says Felix Sabates, a Republican and successful businessman and car dealer. "So you're going to squeeze the rich guy and create more unemployment?"

No Charlotteans are in the category of Buffett, No. 2 on Forbes list of the richest Americans. Dale Halton says his portfolio "makes mine look pathetic."

Halton built her fortune after saving her grandfather's Pepsi Cola Bottling Co. - the nation's first Pepsi franchise - from bankruptcy in 1981. She climbed into the president's seat and began to rebuild her grandfather's legacy. She has given huge sums of money to UNC Charlotte and Central Piedmont Community College.

"For him there are all kinds of ways to get around paying so much in taxes," says Halton. "I do have a considerable amount of investments and income. But I don't have the options he has to avoid paying taxes."

But Buffett's comments in a Monday New York Times opinion piece renewed debate about a Byzantine tax code that critics say skews benefits toward the wealthy.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the top 1 percent of taxpayers paid 29.5 percent in 2007 - down from 37 percent in 1979.

However, CBO says their share of all federal taxes rose from 15.4 percent to 28.1 percent over the same period.

Republicans blasted Buffett questioning Buffett's sincerity.

"If Warren Buffet (sic) wants to pay more taxes and send more of his money to Washington, why doesn't he just do it?" tweeted Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., who has led the push against tax increases to help reduce budget deficits.

Donald Trump entered the fray in an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos. Trump, who earlier this year considered seeking the GOP presidential nomination, said he would be willing to see his tax rates increased from 17 percent to 25 percent.

"But a lot of people wouldn't be," he said. "A lot of people would leave the country."

"I'm talking about big people, job-producing people," Trump continued. "A lot of people will say, 'No thank you, I'm going to Switzerland. I'm going to Germany. I'm going to here, I'm going to there.' "

Retired Bank of America Corp. chief executive Hugh McColl Jr. says Buffett's comments "made sense."

"Most people I know would be willing to pay more in taxes if that would be used for debt reduction," says McColl, who has said in the past that he is a Democrat. "I think people want to see the debt itself reduced, not just cutting the rate we are increasing the deficit."

Businessman C.D. "Dick" Spangler, No. 238 on the Forbes list, calls fellow billionaire Buffett "a very wise man." But he won't say whether he'd be willing to pay higher taxes.

"There probably needs to be a revamping of the tax code," he says, "which would be broad."

Spangler, a Democrat, wouldn't offer his own specific prescription for solving the country's debt problem, but said by far the best solution is improving the economy.

"That will bring in enormous revenue," he said. "It doesn't do any good raising taxes on people who are unemployed. The only way out is a much better economy."

Smith says lowering taxes, especially on corporations, will create more incentive to invest and create jobs.

"There's a lot of capital, billions and billions, tied up with corporations," he says.

This is not the first time that Buffett, a friend and donor to President Barack Obama, has used his personal tax bill - and those of his employees - to make the case that super-wealthy Americans are under-taxed.

In 2007, Buffett raised the issue at a fundraiser for then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, arguing that secretaries pay higher tax rates than their millionaire bosses and offering to pay $1 million to anyone who could prove him wrong.

Obama endorsed Buffett's views and said he hoped a bipartisan committee of 12 members of Congress would consider his proposals as it sets out to trim the federal budget gap by $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

The growing national debt is becoming a central issue as the 2012 presidential race heats up. Tribune Newspapers and staff writers David Perlmutt, Ely Portillo and Rick Rothacker contributed

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