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Tax the rich: Should millionaires really pay more?

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"I'm paying taxes at a lower rate than my secretary ... and frankly I think that's crazy," Buffett said during a speech in 2000 at Columbia University in New York, where he endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton in her first Senate bid.

Eleven years later, Buffett's refrain – "Tax me more!" – reflects the same stance: that low tax rates on capital gains favor wealthy investors over middle-class wage earners.

For the first time, however, the folksy tale of his receptionist has caught fire, eliciting a strong endorsement from the Oval Office and cries of class warfare from congressional Republicans. Forget Joe the Plumber. Warren Buffett's secretary is the new working-class hero of the Great Recession.

(For the record, Buffett has not one but several assistants. And none are exactly jumping to answer the call of history. Two of them, Carrie Kizer and Debbie Bosanek, declined to be interviewed for this article.)

When Buffett spoke of his beleaguered secretary back in 2000, his words made shallow ripples in the media, then sank from view. Today they've sparked a fierce debate across the country – and even helped inflame one around the world.

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