Annual Gifts to Treasury are Miniscule

Few pay more than they owe to the feds, Norquist's advice to Buffet nothwithstanding.

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Maybe he can turn a drop in the bucket into a drop and a half.

Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett, among the richest people on the planet, has criticized the U.S. tax system as unfair, saying that he pays a lower effective tax rate than his secretary. In response, Grover Norquist, leader of Americans for Tax Reform, a group that advocates for a national flat income tax, has issued a challenge to Buffett, as U.S. News contributor Peter Roff reports: voluntarily donate to the Treasury.

"You can open up your checkbook right now, write a check payable to the United States Treasury, and drop it in the nearest mailbox (or just hand it to your 'secretary'). Problem solved," Norquist wrote in a letter to Buffett this week.

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Should he choose to take up Norquist's proposition, Buffett's help would certainly be welcome; according to figures from the Treasury Department, the government receives a microscopic sum of gifts every year in comparison to the nation's $14.7 trillion debt. In FY 2010, the Treasury received $2.8 million in gift contributions to reduce the amount of debt held by the public. As of July 2011, the Treasury had received $2.4 million in FY 2011, putting it on track to take in roughly $2.9 million this fiscal year, or less than 0.00002 percent of the nation's total public debt.

A Treasury Department spokesperson says that the department does not publish information on the number of donations received, but one person alone—even the second-richest person in America, according to Forbes—can only make a small dent. Even if Buffett were to gift the U.S. government his entire net worth, which Forbes estimates at $39 billion, that would cut public debt by just under 0.4 percent.

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The figures suggest that people might be feeling more magnanimous toward the Treasury Department these days. The government has seen a modest increase in gifts in the last five years. Below is a rundown of the annual amount of gifts the Treasury has received over the last 15 years:

Fiscal Year to Date Totals

2011 $2,429,800.03

2010 2,840,466.75

2009 3,063,057.05

2008 2,189,358.89

2007 2,624,862.42

2006 1,646,209.41

2005 1,455,541.65

2004 664,911.25

2003 1,277,423.40

2002 744,675.06

2001 1,645,082.28

2000 1,868,891.93

1999 1,457,510.59

1998 1,535,541.02

1997 955,897.15

1996 1,985,175.10

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