Obviously, the fact that three of Barack Obama's nominees have had tax trouble gives the Republicans and the media something of an opening to poke a little fun at Obama and the Democratic Party. But reporters should keep in mind that Republicans have had their share of tax troubles, too.
Countless reporters have quoted GOP Rep. Eric Cantor saying "It's easy for the other side to sit here and advocate higher taxes because - you know what? - they don't pay them." Others have made the same argument in their own voice.
Quoting Cantor is fine -- it's a good line. But news reports that simply quote Cantor or express a similar sentiment give the impression that tax troubles are a problem unique to prominent Democrats.
Not so. During last year's presidential campaign, it emerged that Cindy McCain hadn't bothered to pay taxes on one of her homes. Several other Republican candidates last year had tax troubles. Republican Party Strategist and Mascot Joe Wurzelbacher had a tax lien placed against him. Dick Morris -- who has criticized Tim Geithner's failure to pay taxes -- had a $1.5 million tax lien filed against him by the IRS, and the state of Connecticut said he owed more than $450,000 in unpaid taxes and penalities. There are presumably dozens of other examples.
Obviously, that doesn't mean the media shouldn't mention the tax troubles of Obama's nominees. Nor does it mean they shouldn't quote Republican criticisms. But when they quote Republicans suggesting unpaid taxes are a uniquely Democratic problem, they have an obligation to make clear that this is not true. And, certainly, they should avoid making that suggestion themselves.
The CBS Evening News included a clip of Sen. John McCain claiming that the economic recovery package was "not a stimulus package. It's a spending package." Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson did not point out that the distinction between spending and stimulus has been challenged by economists, including Congressional Budget Office director Douglas Elmendorf, who has stated that the House legislation "would provide massive fiscal stimulus" and that the CBO, along with "most economists," believes that all of the spending in the bill "provides some stimulative effect."
Interviewing President Obama, ABC's Charles Gibson repeated assertions that "not enough" of the economic recovery package before Congress "is really stimulative," that the bill "really doesn't stimulate," and that "it's a spending bill and not a stimulus." But according to the director of the Congressional Budget Office, "most economists" believe "all of the increase in government spending" included in the bill "provides some stimulative effect." The CBO director has further stated that the bill "would provide massive fiscal stimulus."
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MSNBC's Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski continued their assault on the economic recovery package, misrepresenting New Deal unemployment figures to argue that government spending does not boost employment.
Discussing the economic recovery bill, Sean Hannity falsely claimed that the Congressional Budget Office "say[s] it's not a stimulus bill." However, in analyzing the House and Senate versions of the bill, the CBO stated it expects that either version "would have a noticeable impact on economic growth and employment in the next few years."
During a segment on the economic recovery legislation, CNN's Christine Romans asserted, "If your point is to create new jobs, the safety net spending doesn't necessarily create new jobs." But Romans ignored the connection between gross domestic product growth caused by that "safety net spending" and job creation. Congressional Budget Office director Douglas W. Elmendorf has testified that transfers to persons, such as unemployment insurance and nutrition assistance, are effective tools to stimulate GDP growth and that the stimulative effect on GDP leads to job creation.
Morning Joe's Mika Brzezinski has relentlessly repeated the claim that funding for "welfare programs" and nutrition assistance included in the recovery bill is "not stimulus," even after CNBC's Erin Burnett cited economist Mark Zandi and said that "[f]ood stamps" and "[u]nemployment benefits" are some of the measures that "would increase spending." Other economists have also said that programs that provide aid to state governments and individuals, would, in the words of CBO director Douglas Elmendorf, "have a significant impact on GDP."
Check out of the fine print from yesterday's CNN chron:
Yes, it reads "Stimulus gains $80 billion; are Dems sabotaging it with extras?"
Gee, nothing loaded about that language, right?
Responding to Adam Green's piece over at Huffington Post, which admonished Burnett for her MTP appearance this weekend where she seemed to act more like a spokeswoman for Wall Street firms, and less like a reporter covering them, Burnett's CNBC colleague Jim Cramer came to her defense on the air yesterday.
Meanwhile, Green has invited Burnett to live blog with him and Huff Post readers about the topic of the Wall Street bailout. Let's hope she accepts.
And note to Green: if the debate takes place, please be sure to ask Burnett about her claim on MTP that taxpayer money did not help pay for those recent corporate bonuses for Wall Street execs. It appears she got the facts wrong.
The Wall Street Journal misleadingly claimed in an editorial that the U.S. corporate tax rate "is higher than in all of Europe." In fact, according to the Government Accountability Office, "Statutory tax rates do not provide a complete measure of the burden that a tax system imposes on business income." Additionally, World Bank and GAO data indicate that the U.S. effective corporate tax rate is lower than 35 percent and lower than several developed -- including some European -- economies.
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Responding to criticism of the bonuses paid in 2008 by Wall Street firms -- some of which had received federal bailout funds -- Erin Burnett said during Meet the Press: "The taxpayer money isn't being taken and paid out in the form of bonuses. It goes in a separate pool ... a separate account for banks." However, contrary to Burnett's assertion, money is fungible, and without the federal assistance, Wall Street bonuses would have been much lower, according to several experts.