September 20, 2006

Taxing Talk from Mark Warner

Former Virginia Governor and presidential hopeful Mark Warner says presidential candidates should not "alienate the rich" by complaining that, well, all the benefits of Bush's tax breaks go to the rich. As CTJ recently pointed out, it is, in fact, only the richest one percent of Americans that will benefit from President Bush's tax and fiscal policy once you consider the debt burden that every American will have to pay off eventually.

Nonetheless, Warner argues that Americans all aspire to be in the richest 1 or 2 percent one day and therefore don't mind that tax cuts benefit that group.

The only problem is that this is simply not true. The Gallup Poll has asked Americans each year whether they think particular classes of people pay "too much" or "too little" in taxes or "their fair share." The polling shows that over the past ten years 63-68 percent of people have felt that "upper-income people" pay "too little" in taxes. (And this year, 70 percent felt that corporations pay "too little.")

Now one would have to concede that people give very contradictory answers to questions that are worded a little differently and it's hard to figure out exactly where the voters are. The Gallup Poll also shows that about half of those surveyed said their taxes were too high in each of the past few years, but over 60 percent also have said that the taxes they pay seem "fair." Other polling shows that people will respond favorably to the Bush tax cuts but then when asked if the tax cuts are worth the cuts in spending and budget deficits that follow, the majority answers in the negative.

Perhaps the real lesson is that public opinion on this issue is fairly malleable and that voters may quickly change their answer to a question if presented with new information.

As has been pointed out in the American Prospect's blog, the real consequence of Warner's position may be very little. He seems to be saying that if he were President he would not try to repeal the Bush tax cuts but let them expire as they are scheduled to at the end of 2010. So really he's quibbling about two years of tax breaks. Which means anti-tax crusaders are going to tar him as a "tax-and-spend" candidate anyway, so what exactly is he trying to accomplish with these remarks?


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