Today's Washington Post includes an article about voters' misperceptions about the presidential candidates' tax plans -- an article that fails to clarify much about their actual proposals. Here's how the Post explains the distribution of the candidates' tax cuts:
If voters hear any part of Obama's message, it's his vow to treat taxpayers differently depending on their income. Under his plan, lower- and middle-income workers would see large tax cuts, while families in the top 1 percent of the income scale would see an average annual tax increase of nearly $100,000, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.
McCain, by contrast, vows to cut taxes for all families, but his plan would concentrate those benefits among the same families who would suffer under Obama. While middle-income families would see an average tax cut of about $321 under McCain, according to the Tax Policy Center, families in the top 1 percent would see an average tax cut of nearly $49,000.
Notice anything missing? The Post tells us the "average tax cut" for "middle-income families" under McCain's plan: $321, according to the Tax Policy Center. Is that more or less than such families would get under Obama's plan? That's a fairly basic question, and one you would think an article about the candidates' tax plans would answer. But the Post says only that under Obama's plan, "lower- and middle-income workers would see large tax cuts." Well, great. How large? More than under McCain's plan? Less? The Post doesn't tell readers. Is it any wonder that voters don't understand the candidates' tax plans?
For the record, the Tax Policy Center -- the very organization the Post relied on for its information -- says Obama would give bigger tax cuts to middle income taxpayers than McCain would:
The Obama plan would reduce taxes for low- and moderate-income families, but raise them significantly for high-bracket taxpayers (see Figure 2). By 2012, middle-income taxpayers would see their after-tax income rise by about 5 percent, or nearly $2,200 annually. Those in the top 1 percent would face a $19,000 average tax increase—a 1.5 percent reduction in after-tax income.
McCain would lift after-tax incomes an average of about 3 percent, or $1,400 annually, for middle-income taxpayers by 2012. But, in sharp contrast to Obama, he would cut taxes for those in the top 1% by more than $125,000, raising their after-tax income an average 9.5 percent.
On CBS' The Early Show, Maggie Rodriguez did not challenge McCain campaign adviser Steve Schmidt's claim that "Senator [Barack] Obama has a plan to raise" taxes, even though McCain's own chief economic adviser has reportedly said it is inaccurate to say "Barack Obama raises taxes." Rodriguez did not point out that, in fact, Obama has proposed cutting taxes for low- and middle-income families and raising them only on households earning more than $250,000 per year.
During an appearance on Fox & Friends, Donald Trump claimed, "The worst thing that can happen [in this economy] is everybody has to pay double and triple the taxes, and that's what [Sen. Barack] Obama is looking to do." Fox & Friends co-hosts did not challenge Trump's claim, even though it is false. Obama has proposed cutting taxes for low- and middle-income families and raising taxes only on households earning more than $250,000 per year in income.
The Washington Times uncritically repeated the McCain campaign's false claim that Sen. Barack Obama "oppos[es] ... tax cuts for small businesses." In fact, Obama supports tax cuts for small businesses, including "eliminat[ing] capital gains taxes for small businesses" and "provid[ing] a refundable credit of up to 50 percent on [health care] premiums paid by small businesses on behalf of their employees."
A Washington Post article on young evangelical voters stated that one such voter is "leaning toward [Sen. John] McCain because she shares his economic views and is afraid that [Sen. Barack] Obama will raise taxes," but did not note that Obama has proposed cutting taxes for low- and middle-income families, or that McCain's own chief economic adviser has reportedly said it is inaccurate to say that "Barack Obama raises taxes."
The Denver Post, ABC News, and The Washington Post all uncritically reported that Sen. John McCain, during an August 14 appearance in Aspen, Colorado, responded to criticism that he had changed his position on President Bush's tax cuts by stating he originally opposed them because they were not accompanied by spending reductions. None of these outlets noted that when McCain voted against the tax cuts in 2001, the reason he gave in his Senate floor statement was not that they were not accompanied by spending cuts but, rather, that "so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us, at the expense of middle class Americans who most need tax relief."
The headline of a Washington Post article read: "Obama Tax Plan Would Balloon Deficit, Analysis Finds." But while the headline focused on Sen. Barack Obama, the article itself reported that the Tax Policy Center found that Sen. John McCain's tax plan would add $5 trillion to the national debt while Obama's plan would add $3.4 trillion.
On Hugh Hewitt's show, the Politico's Mike Allen said that "Senator [John] McCain had a good week last week" and stated it may be because of the McCain campaign's "Celebrity" ad, which "suggested [Sen. Barack] Obama is going to raise taxes." Allen did not note that the claim is false. In fact, Obama has proposed cutting taxes for low- and middle-income families, and McCain's own chief economic adviser has reportedly said it is inaccurate to say that "Barack Obama raises taxes."
In a Wall Street Journal column, Karl Rove claimed that "[Sen. John McCain] opposes tax increases and [Sen. Barack] Obama favors them." In fact, Obama has proposed cutting taxes for low- and middle-income families, and McCain's own chief economic adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, has reportedly said that it is inaccurate to say that "Barack Obama raises taxes." Moreover, McCain himself recently suggested he would be open to raising Social Security payroll taxes.
Reporting on U.S. Senate candidates campaigning at a Mississippi county fair, NPR's Debbie Elliott uncritically aired a clip of one fairgoer claiming that the "[o]nly time we have ever gotten anything out of the federal government was when the Republicans were there." In fact, according to the Tax Foundation, from 1981 through 2005, Mississippi has consistently received more from the federal government than the state's residents pay in taxes.
In an editorial, Investor's Business Daily falsely claimed that the Global Poverty Act of 2007, sponsored by Sen. Barack Obama, "would force U.S. taxpayers to fork over 0.7% of our gross domestic product every year to fund a global war on poverty, spending well above the $16.3 billion in global poverty aid the U.S. already spends." In fact, the bill would establish no specific funding source and would not commit the United States to any targeted level of spending.
The Wall Street Journal's Jesse Drucker wrote that Sen. Barack Obama has said he will "seek to raise" the capital gains tax to "at least 20%, the rate before the 2003 cut, and possibly higher." In fact, Obama has said he would not raise the capital gains tax on individuals with income of less than $250,000 -- a fact noted by WSJ reporter Tom Herman in an "Ask Dow Jones" Q-and-A.
On Meet the Press, Tom Brokaw asked Al Gore if, on the subject of renewable energy, "Hillary Clinton reset this debate when she said there should be a summer holiday on the federal gas tax." But Brokaw did not mention that Sen. John McCain also proposed a gas-tax holiday or that one of his top advisers still touts the plan as "the best stimulus package we can have right now."
In a column criticizing Sen. Barack Obama's tax proposals, Thomas Sowell wrote that it is a "well-documented fact" that "lower tax rates on capital gains had produced more actual revenue collected from that tax than the higher tax rates had." In fact, numerous economists have challenged the assertion that cuts in the capital gains tax raise revenue in the long term. The nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that the 2006 extension of the 2003 cuts on capital gains taxes would result in decreased revenues of $20 billion over 10 years.
On MSNBC, Joe Watkins asserted: "The reality is that John McCain actually supported tax cuts. The reason why he didn't support the tax cuts earlier is because he said you've got to slow down government spending. You can't spend and cut at the same time." In fact, McCain said in a May 2001 statement on the Senate floor that he was voting against the Bush tax cuts because "so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us, at the expense of middle class Americans who most need tax relief." Watkins also claimed McCain "crafted that [comprehensive immigration reform] bill with Democrats, with Teddy Kennedy among other people. ... [H]ere's a guy willing to take big-time risks," but didn't note that McCain has said he would not support the bill if it came to a vote on the Senate floor.