Buffett claimed that, like himself, other "mega-rich pay income taxes at a rate of 15% on most of their earnings," but that is not at all common. The average income-tax rate of those earning between $1 million and $10 million was 29.5% in 2009.
Obama used Buffett's uniquely low 17.4% tax as proof that "a few of the most affluent citizens and most profitable corporations enjoy tax breaks and loopholes that nobody else gets." That is not true.
Anyone whose income is almost entirely composed of realized capital gains or dividends would "pay income taxes at a rate of 15% on most of their earning." Investors with modest incomes also pay a tax rate of 15% on dividends and capital gains, although that rate is scheduled to rise to 18.8% under the Obama health law (and much higher if Congress enacted the "reforms" Obama will propose next Monday).
Before 2003, when the tax on dividends was made the same as the tax on capital gains, Berkshire Hathaway was a handy tax dodge — a way to own dividend-paying stocks without paying taxes on the dividends. Buffett is famous for collecting stocks with a generous dividend yield without Berkshire itself paying any dividend.
The dividends Berkshire receives are reinvested in buying more stocks, so the holding company ends up with more assets per share which results in capital gains that would be taxable only if the shares are sold.
Warren Buffett is the second wealthiest person in America, but he reports surprisingly little taxable income for someone who owns more than $50 billion of Berkshire shares. Increasing the tax rate on salaries and interest income would barely affect him.
He pays himself a salary of just $100,000, which explains how he pays less than his employees do in payroll taxes. He dodged the estate tax by donating his wealth to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He doubtless reduces his taxable income with other donations to charity, which explains why he repeatedly refers to taxable income rather than adjusted gross income.