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Did Obama Pay a Lower Rate Than His Secretary?

Updated 1:10 pm ET

President Obama paid a total federal tax rate in 2011 on adjusted income of $789,674 that may be lower than that of his secretary, even though she earned substantially less.

Obama has spent the past week touting the Buffett Rule, which calls on those who make $1 million – just a little more than Obama made – to pay at federal tax rate of at least 30 percent. The rule was inspired by Buffett’s comment that he paid a lower tax rate than his secretary.

The most recent information about salary regarding Obama’s secretary is for his former secretary, Katie Johnson, who is listed by the White House as having made $90,000 in 2010.

According to Wikipedia, Johnson is 31 years old and now attends Harvard Law School. I don’t know about her personal life or what her deductions would be, so I can’t assume any children or extra deductions.

On a $90,000 salary, she would pay $16,578 in federal taxes, $3,780 to Social Security, and $1,305 in Medicare taxes.

That adds up to a total federal tax burden of $21,663 on $90,000 in adjusted gross income, or a tax rate of 24 percent.

Obama’s federal income tax rate was 20.5 percent. If you include the Medicare and Social Security taxes paid by Obama, his total federal tax liability is 21.8 percent, fully two percent less than that of his secretary even though his adjusted gross income was nearly nine times hers.

292 thoughts on “Did Obama Pay a Lower Rate Than His Secretary?”

  1. “I don’t know about her personal life or what her deductions would be…”

    These seem like important factors to consider when writing a post about someone’s tax rate.

    1. Mike, I think the point is that both Buffet and Obama have made the claim about Buffet-v-Secretary without producing any proof or details about their deductions, filing status, etc, so turn about is fair play. The real problem is that if Buffet-v-Secretary is true and we don’t like it we need to know the details of WHY so that we know what/how to fix it.

    2. The details are irrelevant since arguments in favor of the Buffet Rule fail to disclose relevant details such as Buffett’s corporate tax contribution (he’s majority shareholder) vs. the less than 1% of that in salary that he collects.
      Let’s keep the details vague for the simple folk. Makes them more malleable

    3. One more thing. There’s a lot of people these days making a claim of X and demanding the something be done about X without even having to prove that X exists, happened, is true, etc. (Fill in your own favorite X.) This needs to stop.

      1. Gordon, it isn’t a big mystery. Capital gains, which are the primary source of Buffet’s income, are taxed at a much lower rate than standard income.

        1. For which I, as someone who is investing for retirement, am very grateful. If the tax rate on my slowly growing retirement portfolio were the same as on my salary, I could look forward to never retiring.

          1. The jackass in the WH is doing his best to make sure looking forward to never retiring becomes a reality and when you get too sick or old to work anymore and the government’s death panel decides your of no value as a contributing member of their twisted society you will be REFUSED HC and offered a pill. That will end your burden of soceity! There is a bright side for little Gomez the illegal, you still get to pay for his HC until the pill kills you!

        2. Actually, it’s dividends that are taxed at a lower rate. Cap gains MAY be taxed at a lower rate from person-to-person, but combined income from all sources is the deciding factor. Also, if you don’t sell something that year (financial instruments, real estate, etc.) there’s no cap gains tax for that year. Also, how many partnerships or corporations is Buffett a part of that don’t appear on his personal tax records? More than a few, I would venture.

          The problem with comparing one individual’s tax rate with another, without having access to the details that create the taxing platform, is that you may be comparing two things that have less in common than even apples to oranges.

          That’s also why the tax code is in such dire need of streamling. Arguing about “fairness” in a system that has tens of thousands of rules + footnotes by drawing percentage comparisons on the final outcome after peoples’ incomes have gone through the IRS taxation assessment “shredder” is a very futile exercise, and little more than an exercise. Every year I have to spend more time at it….what a waste. Isn’t the burden of cost to prepare estimated at $300 billion/year? Seems to me that money is being thrown away….

        3. They should be taxed at a lower rate. We all paid taxes on that same money/dollar already at least seven ways from Sunday. I liked Cain’s and others’ ideas of flat taxes. EVERYONE benefits from the government in some way even if it’s nothing more than the road you use. The problem is that people who do NOT pay taxes have no vested interest in controlling the spending by the gentlemen in office who want to spend all of everyone’s money. The welfare system is broken and destroys lives and families. The money often goes directly to alcohol, smokes and drugs. This is a problem.

          1. The money that was invested was taxed when it was earned, but not the profit earned by that investment.

            The real reason capital gains need to be treated differently is that the “profit” is only partly real. It is entirely possible to invest money for a long time, sell the investment for more money than the original investment (and thereby have a taxable profit) while the money received is worth less than the money that was invested.

            I’d like to see capital gains indexed to the Consumer Price Index, so that only the portion of the “profit” that represents a real gain would be taxed.

            Even a “low inflation” rate of 4% means that a 50% “profit” on an asset held 10 years isn’t really a profit at all. But the IRS wants a cut of that “profit” anyway.

          2. Right on! Our country broke away from England violently in the 1770s in part because we were taxed without being given representation. Now we have representation without taxation, just as unfair.

        4. I do not see why people do not get the lower capital gains tax rate.
          Before they invested the money, it was taxed, so to stimulate the economy through investment, if it were taxed the same, wouldn’t that hinder investment?

    4. Mike,

      You make very good points. The press is currently just looking for anything to “make news” when there is no news on this subject.

      It is always fun for many to compare apples to oranges and see who falls for the nonsense.

      I like the FACT that Obama GAVE away 22% of his money to Charities. Charities will put the money to much better use then the Government would.

      1. Is there any proof of that? Receipts? I don’t believe a word the downgrades say.

        Would the IRS even ask the downgrades for receipts? Somehow, I don’t see that happening.

    5. Yes, they would be important factors to consider, Mike, when writing an article. Seems like they’d be important when writing legislation, too. So how come we’ve never heard the details you refer to ralted to Buffet’s secretary?

  2. I don’t know if it is below his secretary but I can tell you it is way below mine and I make less than the secretary…… Hypocrisy thy name is democrat/ prog / socialist!

    1. Well, Obama would go even higher on the rich, but you conservatives don’t want it. Call your congressman and tell them you want to raise taxes on the rich to 40%. Problem solved.

      1. Lets just have the government confiscate ALL of their money and we can then live in the Communist society you so much desire! Yes we can live in the dark just like the happy citizens of North Korea!

      1. He could easily correct this situation for himself by adjusting his own exemptions, etc. The truth is he didn’t and could have voluntarily. So if you are going to comment about republicans being ignorant on purpose, then you also have to say that the president purposely filed his taxes to pay the LOWEST amount of taxes he could.

      2. Really?? and you’re the smart one? You’re from the party that say’s we were going to spend a million dollars but we only spent 750,000 so we saved the public 250,000 then they run around with glee telling everybody thay just saved us 250K when they really spent 750K and they call that a spending cut!

      3. Get a clue, this so called legislation solves nothing. Talk about ignorant… It is about the loop holes and that is the issue. Tax the rich all you want. As long as the current tax laws that change 365 times a year on a yearly basis, nothing will get resolved. It is very obvious OB is using all the possible loopholes. Flat tax at 10% across the board with no loop holes for anyone or business would fix all our deficit issues, but for some reason, logic does not work in politics or for you, Brad.

  3. Once again we see more proof that the first and most important tenant of liberalism is ‘do as I say, not as I do’. Too bad the liberal MSM won’t ever mention this on their news casts. They need to protect obama as much as possible, after all he needs their cheerleading efforts to get re-elected.

    1. How exactly does this get done unless the laws get changed to make it so? Do you want those on top to pay at least the same marginal tax rate as those who work for them? If so, then you are supporting Obama’s case now.

      So, your solution for the said hypocrisy is not to address the actual situation, but the words coming out of the mouth of the person saying it?

      1. Actually, it would be very easy to do right now without changing any laws. Simply don’t take the deductions that are the reason for the lower effective tax rate. Problem solved.

        1. You libtards will never understand, when you take a salary you are taxed on that money, then you invest that money that has already been taxed and if you’re lucky the investment grows, if you’re lucky enough to be able to draw enough investment income to live on that money is taxed AGAIN at a lower rate. Obama and his minions are putting out false information, they don’t tell you that Buffett does not draw a salary and it is by Buffets choice so he can AVOID paying the higher tax rate. They also don’t tell you that Buffet ows back taxes going back like 10 years! The useful idiots just keep sloppong up Obama’s lies day in and day out. All you have to do is look at history and what happens when you raise taxes, the rich always find ways to shelter their money and keep it from being exposed to taxes and the government gets less in the end! How can these overpaid government stooges pay themselves such obsene amounts of taxpayer money and be so stupid?

          1. Um. I’m not a “libtard”. I’m pointing out how Rich’s hero there could do exactly what he wants others to do right now without changing any laws. As someone investing for retirement, I am totally against raising taxes on capital gains and dividends.

      2. Rich,

        I’m gonna simplify this as much as I can for you. There is a difference between income from INVESTMENT… just the same way there is a difference between INVESTMENT and spending. The money INVESTED to create those capital gains was ALREADY TAXED as income. The capital gains tax is in essence an BONUS 15% to the government because that person decided to invest that money and not spend it. I know that Obama will tell you that spending is the same thing as investing, but he is LYING.

        The question of whether Obama’s secretary has ADDITIONAL income from investments that would lower her effective tax rate is IRRELEVANT.

        The system is NOT BROKEN and therefore does not need to be “fixed” by Obama and his socialist administration.

        This country has a SPENDING problem going all the way back to LBJ. Making the wealthy poor will not solve that problem. What happens when they soak all the millionaires and they move out of the country to protect their OWN self interests? Who will they be coming after next? How long before they get around to you?

        I will keep my trickle down wealth beliefs, and liberals can keep their trickle up poverty model.

        I hope this helps you understand.


    1. Now, I’m not sure whether or not you feel the Buffet Rule is a good idea, or your views on taxes, but do you see how this would be true even if there was a flat tax rate? Even if the top 1% had a rate of half everyone else, they would still pay more to the government than probably 80% of Americans. Of course Dems want them to pay more, they are the vast majority of the support for the 50% who don’t pay taxes!

      1. heh, Tyler, I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one that sees thru the left’s blatant, willful, persistent intellectual dishonesty.

        The media covers for them… and the schools teach this liberal claptrap now. Recent highschool graduates couldn’t mount a logical argument if their lives depended on it. No one ever told them that such a thing exists.

        And THAT is where we are.

        Cradle to grave, baby… they have taken over society.

  5. From a tax accountant…. “…total federal tax rate of 20.5 percent on a gross adjusted income $789,674…” seems to imply this is only related to his federal income tax, and would exclude Social Security and Medicare payroll tax amounts. This analysis is comparing apple to oranges if this is the case.

    1. Nice effort, not, it’s just with a little more research any comparisons between the two have little true value to these points being raised lately. Homework will be increased for your next semester.

    2. Exactly. This guy is just trying to be get the “math challenged” all worked up, but knows that what he is exposing is total BS.

      Mr. Koffler….are you a reporter trying to educate or do you have an agenda on why you are purposely misleading people?

    3. Thanks for busting this guy’s chops. Although numbers don’t lie, no one seems concerned with using them accurately.

      If I were to recommend a quick calculation to determine how “greedy” a taxpayer is: tax paid / (adjusted gross income – charitable contributions).

      Historically Obama would look a lot more “greedy” than Romney. Biden would look far worse.

        1. On that same note, 2% less than her tax rate still mean he paid over 9 times the amount of tax she did… percentage doesn’t directly translate to amount of tax paid…

  6. I agree Mike, as I assume this article is assuming the tax rate for his secretary as single. Is the same assumption being made for the President’s tax rate or for head of household with 2 children? Article is either incomplete or comes off as simply a rather weak attack.

  7. Come on Mike, you know he pays a lower rate. And I bet he made a hell of alot more than 789K. He stepped in it AGAIN! sooner or later one can only hope Americans finally see through the HYPE surrounding our dear leader

    1. I don’t know that at all. The original post makes no allowance for significant taxable income deductions like 401(k), charitable giving, mortgage interest, etc. Odds are she has a much lower taxable income than originally assumed.

  8. Funny how the dems love to run around saying the rich pay less taxes but fail to point out “less as a % rate” but a lot more in actual dollars. Maybe this will shine some light on the issue for all the ignorants who think the rich pay less taxes then they do in actual dollars.

  9. You people are idiots – this just proves Obama’s point. He SHOULD be paying a higher tax rate than his secretary. The tax code should be progressive NOT regressive. If we would lift the Bush tax cuts, he would pay more than his secretary – as he should!!

    1. Hear, hear. I’m not really sure what all the uproar is about among these whiny mouthbreathers. HE HAS SAID HE SHOULD BE PAYING MORE IN TAXES, YOU F’N MORONS! THATS THE WHOLE POINT!!!

    2. Jean – Who’s is stopping him from paying more? Why doesn’t he or anyone else that “should” be paying more just write a check? If they believe they should be paying so much more, then they should go ahead and pay more.

      1. He should be paying more. He didn’t include the million dollar vacations Michelle took last year. She could have flown to Martha’s Vineyard and Hawaii with Obama but she wanted a longer vacation and flew separately with her own caravan of Secrete Service protection.
        If you or I got a free trip to Hawaii we would have to report it on our income taxes as a gift.

    3. This isn’t a matter of rates. Income above $ 100K is taxed @ 25% up to 35% for income above $379K. For Obama to able to get his effective rate down to 20.5% would have required substantial deductions. Deductions do not have to be taken, they are optional. He could have refused to take any deductions and payed an effective rate of 32-34%. He chose not to.

    4. Jean—be careful who you call an idiot. If the President SHOULD pay more, there is NOTHING in the tax code to prevent him from writing a check for more. He’s taking plenty of deductions in he only paid 20% on income of $900+K. So he’s milking the tax system to reduce his taxes and whining that he should pay more.

      BTW, are you taking deductions on your taxes, Jean? Skip the allowable deductions and then you can pay more and be proud of it.

    5. You talkin to me? You’ve never met me so how do you know if I am an idiot? I’ll have you know I completed the sixth grade, so there.

  10. Dear Mr. Koffler,

    You are obviously an experience reporter. I think you should make it clear that there is a real difference between income, adjusted gross income and salary. The President of the United States earns a salary of 400,000. Your statement “Obama’s 2011 salary was nearly nine times the 2010 salary of his secretary.” is totally incorrect. When trying to make a point is helps to be accurate.


  12. You shouldn’t say any Democrat ‘pays’ a certain amount in taxes. They may owe a certain amount, but history tells us that many usually just don’t pay them.

  13. I’m confused by this. Isn’t this precisely the point Obama is making? That a secretary shouldn’t have a higher tax rate than the secretary’s boss? So, if his tax rate is 20% and his secretary’s is 24% – it seems in line with the point they are making that Buffett, too, pays a lower tax rate than HIS secretary. For the record, I think this whole “Buffett rule” talk is crap by the President. But the populist point they are making, a disingenuous point but their argument nonetheless, is that “the rich” are often paying lower tax rates than “the not so rich”. If that is what the President is driving at it won’t be surprising for him to publicly make the same point as is being made in this story here – that his rate is less than his secretary’s.

    1. The point is, individuals don’t want the president to complain about it or do something about it. They want the system to be how it is, run up the debt even further, and then cut spending even more. They want people to be silent about things also, and if feel guilty, to write the government a check for how much extra they feel they are underpaying.

    2. JDW…
      He has already said “People like me, that don’t NEED a tax deduction…” and yet he TAKES them… I dunno if there is a better definition of hipocracy to be had.

      Thats about as blatant as it gets.

  14. First you omit Johnson’s exemptions and deductions (claiming, lamely, “I don’t know about her personal life or what her deductions would be, so I can’t assume any children or deductions”).

    Then you add in Johnson’s, but not Obama’s, Social Security and Medicare taxes.

    You are not comparing apples to apples. Not even apples to oranges. More like apples to amoebas.

    Have you no shame?

  15. Nice work confusing your dullard readers with your cheesy math. There are several calculators on the internet. Just using the standard deduction, which you didn’t, her adjusted income is $80,500. That makes her tax “bracket” 25% but her EFFECTIVE rate, the rate she actually would have paid in this scenario is 20%. Everyone is entitled to the standard deduction. Anyone with half a brain knows this. Does it hurt to be such a fool?

      1. Not true. Have you EVER filed a tax form? Millionaires are entitled to a standard deduction. Most NEVER would because the wealthy tend to have many exemptions.

        1. Of course those exemptions were put in place to encourage investment into other ventures, but that, of course, is irrelevant in the grand scheme of the President’s overall messaging. Maybe we should do away with all deductions!
          That ought to be fair….

    1. Burt, you’re 100% wrong. I am doing my taxes right now and looking at the instruction booklet.

      Koffler did give her a standard deduction and personal exemption before computing tax. The tax on $90k taxable income at the single rate is $18,916. Koffler took $90 k adjusted gross income, subtracted the standard deduction ($5,700) and 1 exemption ($3,650). The tax on taxable income of $80,650 at thw single rate is $16,350. (Koffler was wrong on the tax amount.)

      The message for you, Burt, is don’t be arrogant when you are that stupid.

  16. you don’t hold the white house to account…..okc bombing, 93 bombing done by fbi, 911 done by, i don’t know, youtube and tell me….NYPD POLICE TRANSMISSION MURAL VAN MOSSAD.

  17. Pingback: Instapundit » Blog Archive » DID OBAMA PAY A lower tax rate than his secretary?…

  18. All of this assumes that we have a tax revenue problem and that as a result the government needs more of our money. We are spending too much AND being taxed too much. But we are spending WAY too much and should be focused on firing his secretary and about 40000 more other government employees.

    1. I am with you 100% why are the Republicans even getting reeled into this argument? Because they are big spenders also. I voted for Ron Paul.


    1. Did you mail away for you PHD from the back of a Cracker Jack Box? Btw, don’t forget to turnoff your cap lock before you post something….makes you look sort of dumb.


  21. When asked about this situation, the President said ” You don’t understand, my secretary is a honkie. That adds on another TWW scenerio ( Taxed While White ). She’s lucky to have this job. I offered it to Beyonce but my wife thought that might not work for her. Also, it is harder to look down on a mega-star than a meek white woman.. Errrr……..did i say that out loud? ”

    The president then boarded his golf cart and headed to the couse instead of working to save the economy. The press agreed he had that right and it was the fair thing to do…….


  23. $1 Million as a limit seems somewhat arbitrary. To be “fair”, shouldn’t Obama pay a minimum 30% on his income too? I mean, shouldn’t the President pay at least as high a rate as any threshold he sets for others, especially if it’s done in the name of fairness rather than true tax reform and debt reduction.

  24. Pingback: The President and the Buffett Rule | hogewash

  25. Perhaps NOW we can call it the Obama Rule……
    BTW: WHEN is Buffett going to pay the Berkshire back taxes? They’re over $1billion in the hole for not paying what was legally owed.

  26. My question is why the hell is a government secretary making $90,000 per year? That works out to $43.27 to answer phones and schedule appointments. This probably doesn’t include benefits either. No wonder we are going broke.

      1. First of all, it’s not like this is the secretary at your local law office or something. Executive secretaries in most big companies are actually pretty well compensated because they have a very demanding job. Also, $90k in DC isn’t the same as it is in the Midwest. Cost of living is much higher.

        1. These salaries haven’t changed in years and Mike is right, this is not that high for what is a very demanding job in a big city. Working at the WH also means you are on call 24/7 and I doubt she gets overtime pay. I seemed to recall Clinton’s secretary Betty Curry made about $100k. And the President’s salary of $400k hasn’t changed in what seems like decades. Eight years ago when I was a legal secretary in DC I made almost what Katie made.

  27. Well I know my tax rate is about where Obozo’s is, but that is only because I am active duty military and don’t pay taxes on my BAH. If I was not in the military I would be paying A LOT more than Obozo.

  28. She wouldn’t pay that much, her adjusted gross income would bring it down a few thousand reducing her to below what the president pays.

  29. Don’t hold your breath waiting for either the Lame Stream Media or the FECKLESS, IMPOTENT , GIRLY MEN REPUBLICANS, to point this out!

  30. social security and medicare are NOT income taxes. The media continues to inflate the taxes of the middle class. The media does not tell the complete story with income taxes. If anyone wants real facts based on filed IRS returns go check out the tax foundation website. There you will see figures from the irs.

  31. Pingback: Oh my! Did Obama pay a lower tax rate than his secretary? « Crush Liberalism

  32. Really? This is just more of the conservative “confuse people by manipulating information to make your argument sound good, but is totally misleading” BS. Anyone who has ever filed their own taxes would understand that your salary and your taxable income are light years apart. For one, if she had no mortgage interest expenses, no 401K deductions, no pre-tax medical deductions, no charitable contributions, dependents…..the list goes on and on…she at least has her standard deductions which would be $5,800.

    Have a little professional and journalistic ethics and at least include the deductions she would have to be given in your cursory analysis. By doing this one thing, her tax rate drops to 17.6%

    If Obama is such a bad guy, why can’t you just tell the truth and not manipulate things in such a blatant distortion of the facts.

    1. And impressive how you pointed out the President gave over $117,000 in charitable donations to the Fisher House Foundation. The Fisher House Foundation which provides assistance and housing for military families to be close to loved ones during hospitalization.

      And what did Romney give all his charitable donations to?? His Church, which if you all knew more about the faith you may have many additional questions about your candidate.

    2. If Obummer would be the least bit transparent we could have that conversation. With him, its all accusations and untruth while hiding his facts.

      1. @Shrugged, typical conservative response. Attack the person, but don’t have an answer for argument. In the “real world”, it isn’t about how can shout the loudest, but the best ideas win. Conservatives used to have ideas, now they just bully people.

  33. I will not participate in this mindless arguement of who pays more or less with the cat and mouse game of using percentage versus actual dollars because we all know the rich pay way more in dollars than 90% of the country.

    The arguement we SHOULD be having is why isn’t the option of cutting spending and major government departments ever a choice? Are we obligated to keep paying more and more to fund a fat bloated useless government? THAT is the issue folks.

    DOwnsize our federal and state government entities by 20% NOW and another 20% within 3 years. No excuses. STOP SPENDING MY MONEY.

  34. The article is misleading. Of course the President did not pay less money in Taxes, unless he had some special write offs. What is unfair though, is that the secretaries Tax Percentage is higher. This is why we need an 18% across the board tax rate for everyone, with no write offs, deductions or exclusions. This includes all Government Employees, Senate, Congress and the President.

  35. The Obama’s have over $11 million dollars. The majority of it is in stocks, bonds, etc. Having it tucked away does not negate that fact. This was his “gross adjusted” income. They have also taken advantage of every loophole allowed while trying to make anyone else doing it the villain. Sooner or later, America must wake up and recognize that this administration follows the old saying “if you cannot blind them with brilliance, baffle them with BS” and the other they adhere to the strongest is “it is better to ask forgiveness than to ask for permission”.
    Janus has absolutely nothing on this man, his wife, and their administration. Two faces are not nearly enough for them. They are more akin to the disco ball throwing confusing light in every direction.

  36. Mike,

    Did you notide the WH had to load her taxes with Medicare and SS to make it bigger than Obama’s? About as phony as their denials they put Hilary Rosen up to her stupid, “She’s never worked…” commebnt.

  37. Methinks your math is bad. If you don’t know the particulars of the secretary’s financial situation you don’t assume $0 for her deductions, you assume the “standard” deduction of $5,800.

    Also, the commenter below is correct, if you’re adding in Social Security and Medicare taxes, you’re now comparing apples to orange.

    Beware of journalists doing math.

  38. Obama’s rate is calculated on Federal Income Taxes paid – and it is disingenuous to use different numbers.

    Her actual effective tax rate would be 18% – lower than Obama’s – assuming the highest possible tax rate and minimum deductions/exemptions.

    If she has dependents, owns a home, or has other significant deductions (as Obama and most people in that income range) then her tax rate would be in the range of 15% or lower.

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