Clinton, Buffett chat onstage at lunchtime fundraiser 

Donors to U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign were treated today in San Francisco to a live "conversation" between the senator and billionaire investment mogul Warren Buffett, tailored specifically to address middle-class concerns.

Buffett, who said he grew up Republican but became a Democrat after he finished school ("I started thinking more," he offered, to wide applause and laughter) has not specifically endorsed Clinton, D-N.Y., and has also appeared at fundraisers with her currently closest Democratic rival, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

The lunchtime talk at the Hilton in downtown San Francisco ranged from the economy and taxes to education and social issues before an audience of about 1,500 donors, most women, estimated to have given $1 million to Clinton's campaign today.

The 77-year-old Buffett and Clinton, 60, seated themselves in plush mauve chairs atop a stage in the hotel's grand ballroom, under a large blue banner emblazoned with "Ready to Lead."

Buffett began with praise for the Rev. Cecil Williams of Glide Memorial Church, a local recipient of Buffett's philanthropy for the church's work with San Francisco's homeless population.

"He has fed countless thousands, he has clothed them, he has taught them," Buffett said. "Most importantly," he said, "he has changed their opinions of themselves."

"I'm an agnostic personally," Buffett added, "but I was very impressed with what this man is doing."

Clinton told the audience that the economy would be "front and center" during the 2008 election and beyond.

"The economy has to have good stewardship," Clinton said. "We need responsible leadership in the White House again."

Buffett said he expected the decline of the dollar to persist "unless we materially change some aspects of the current policy," such as continuing to "force feed" other countries, especially China, $2 billion in assets each day through imports, he said.

"Over time, it has consequences," Buffett noted. Twenty to 30 years from now, he said, "there will be far greater ownership of America" by the rest of the world.

"I worry about the political stability of an economy" where a significant portion "has to be used to service the debt," said Buffett, warning that might lead people to "lash out at the owner class" in future years, he added.

Clinton agreed that these were "troubling signals."

According to Clinton, the average American family has lost $1,000 in yearly income over the past six years, amid health care concerns and rising tuition costs.

"There is beginning to be a sense of unfairness and inequality" between the wealthy and the rest of society, she said. "There is a growing sense that it's not working for average Americans."

Immigration has become "a volatile issue" in part because some are blaming their economic insecurities "on people who are coming here illegally," said Clinton. "This has economic consequences and political consequences."

"We can't become a leader in the world if we have undermined our fiscal position," she stated.

Solving issues like the "credit crunch" and the housing mortgage crisis "is going to be challenging," Clinton acknowledged.

Buffett also noted his support for the estate tax to counter economic inequity.

"The super-rich have gotten a huge break" over middle- and low-income families in the last seven to eight years," according to Buffett, "aided by the tax code."

"The estate tax has been historically part of our very fundamental belief that we should have a meritocracy," not a system that is "over time, dominated by inherited wealth," said Buffett.

As conversation turned to education, Buffett affirmed his belief that parenting was primary, adding that he tells high school students, "You've gotta take care of your mind and body."

Clinton noted her support for early childhood education "to level the playing field" for minorities and impoverished families.

Both concluded on an optimistic note.

"I believe we have every reason to be confident and optimistic about America's future, if we make the right decisions," Clinton stated.

"The American system has unleashed more of the potential of human beings than any other system that has come along," said Buffett, adding that he was confident the economy would rebound.

"The real test of this country will be how wide that prosperity is shared among all the people," Buffett said.

Clinton now heads to another fundraiser in Sacramento, where she hopes to raise about $300,000, according to a campaign spokesman.

— Bay City News

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