The Associated Press Highlights Why Media Shouldn't Call GOP Candidates' Tax Plans “Populist”

The Associated Press called out Republican presidential candidates who engage in populist campaign talk but present tax proposals that would “overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest” -- a trap media often fall into in their reporting on economic policy.

On September 8, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush debuted his tax plan in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, attacking what he called an “anemic economy” under the Obama administration and claiming that the only way to guarantee “accelerating [economic] growth” is a complete overhaul of the U.S. tax code." Bush's so-called “overhaul” includes reducing the top marginal income tax rate to 28 percent, reducing corporate tax rates to just 20 percent, and eliminating what he called “lobbyist-created loopholes” in the tax code that advantage high-income filers. Following the release of Bush's plan, media jumped to paint the proposal as a “populist” approach to taxes, despite experts noting that it will mostly privilege the rich.

In a September 14 article, the Associated Press highlighted the problem with labeling GOP candidates' proposals as “populist,” explaining that in reality, the plans presented by Jeb Bush, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) all “overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest.” Focusing on Bush's proposed tax plan, the article noted that even conservative organizations such as the Tax Foundation concluded that “his plan would initially help the top 1 percent of earners 10 times as much as it would those in the bottom 10 percent”:

Jeb Bush went to Detroit and talked about leveling the playing field. Marco Rubio wrote a book about helping the working class. Rand Paul is promising to expand the Republican Party beyond its traditional base.

Yet all three Republican presidential candidates have offered tax proposals that would, for reasons such as nomination politics and tax rate realities, overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest.

In doing so, they have drawn criticism from Democrats who call it proof that the GOP's eventual nominee will mainly try to help the rich.

Even some conservatives expressed concerns after Bush released his proposed tax cut last week. Then there was the analysis Thursday from the Washington-based Tax Foundation that concluded his plan would initially help the top 1 percent of earners 10 times as much as it would those in the bottom 10 percent.

“Republicans should be countering the caricature of themselves as slavishly devoted to the interests of rich people and corporations, not playing into it,” according to an editorial in the conservative National Review. The magazine nonetheless praised Bush's effort to reduce income and business tax rates.

The trio's tax plans do contain elements aimed directly at middle- and working-class voters. Rubio proposes to expand the child tax credit and Bush wants to double the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is designed to help the working poor.

But experts note that any broad income tax cut inevitably will benefit the rich more than anyone else, because they pay much more in federal income taxes than the middle class or poor.