August 12, 2008

Cutting through the Tax Rhetoric Clutter

Some great fact checks have recently been run by several news organizations and watchdog groups decrying the distortions of Obama's tax plan in several advertisements run by the McCain campaign.

First from and Newsweek:
A TV spot claims Obama once voted for a tax increase "on people making just $42,000 a year." That's true for a single taxpayer, who would have seen a tax increase of $15 for the year – if the measure had been enacted. But the ad shows a woman with two children, and as a single mother, she would not have been affected unless she made more than $62,150. The increase that Obama once supported as part of a Democratic budget bill is not part of his current tax plan anyway...

The TV ad claims in a graphic that Obama would "raise taxes on middle class." In fact, Obama's plan promises cuts for middle-income taxpayers and would increase rates only for persons with family incomes above $250,000 or with individual incomes above $200,000.
And on separate Spanish and English-language radio ads:
A Spanish-language radio ad claims the measure Obama supported would have raised taxes on "families" making $42,000, which is simply false. Even a single mother with one child would have been able to make $58,650 without being affected. A family of four with income up to $90,000 would not have been affected...

The [English-language] radio ad claims Obama would increase taxes "on the sale of your home." In fact, home-sale profits of up to $500,000 per couple would continue to be exempt from capital gains taxes. Very few sales would see an increase under Obama's proposal to raise the capital gains rate.
Lots more analysis from FactCheck and Newsweek here (under "analysis").

Really, this graph from the Urban/Brookings Tax Policy Center analysis is probably one of the best illustrations of the presidential candidates' tax proposals because it illustrates the stark difference in priorities.

Sen. Obama's tax relief is overwhelmingly focused on the lower and middle brackets while raising taxes on the wealthy (over $250,000). Sen McCain's tax plan is sharply regressive, lowering taxes the most in percentage terms for the wealthy and the least for lower and middle-income brackets.

And how will the candidates' respective proposals affect the federal budget deficit? The Washington Post ran an analysis under the misleading title "Obama's Tax Plan Would Balloon Deficit, Analysis Finds." While the article does discuss an interesting debate over whether it's better to evaluate a spending proposal against a budget baseline (assuming current fiscal policy remains unchanged) or just compare proposals to one another in terms of their effect on the national debt, the headline will leave a misleading impression for casual readers who do not delve into the details of the article. This is because it's actually the case that if all McCain's tax proposals were implemented, they would balloon the national debt significantly more than Obama's proposals.

As Media Matters for America notes:
The article stated in its third paragraph that "[a]ccording to a recent analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, Obama's tax plan would add $3.4 trillion to the national debt, including interest, by 2018." The 10th paragraph stated that "[a]ccording to the Tax Policy Center, McCain's tax plans would increase the national debt by at least $5 trillion over the next 10 years."
So not until the 10th paragraph of the article did the Post see fit to tell its readers that McCain's plan is actually worse for the national debt. There's some "fair and balanced" journalism.


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