Fox News is already distorting the American Families Plan

Biden’s proposal would invest $1.8 trillion in education, paid leave, and other programs

The Five

On Wednesday night, President Joe Biden unveiled the American Families Plan — a proposal designed to expand access to education, paid leave, child care, and certain tax credits. By the time Biden began delivering his address to Congress, Fox News had already outlined its strategy to sink the proposed legislation.

The American Families Plan is the Biden administration’s third major legislative proposal, following the American Rescue Plan and the American Jobs Plan. Many conservative commentators immediately zeroed in on the $1.8 trillion price tag — claiming that the spending would damage the recovering economy — and accused Biden of promoting socialism.

More specifically, Fox personalities took issue with the proposal’s supposed winners and losers. They interpreted increased funding for IRS enforcement and heightened capital gains taxes as attacks on the wealthy, while spinning education spending as a “payoff” for teachers unions.

These attacks are based on little evidence and outright distortions of the proposal’s contents. Here are some of the most prominent narratives on Fox so far:

Fox spin: Increased IRS funding and capital gains tax hikes are unfair and overly punitive

Billions of dollars in taxes are left uncollected each year, in part because the IRS does not have the funding necessary to enforce tax laws. The American Families Plan would provide an additional $80 billion in funding over the next 10 years for the IRS to help ensure that wealthier Americans and corporations pay the taxes they owe. But for some on Fox, Biden is “weaponizing” the IRS by providing the funding necessary for the agency to do its job.

Biden’s proposed tax increases — which are popular with the American public — are similarly seen as an attack on the wealthy. In reality, Biden’s proposal would increase capital gains tax rates for top earners to 39.6%, bringing them in line with top income tax rates. Additionally, Biden would return the top income tax rate to where it stood before the Trump administration’s 2017 tax cuts.

  • On April 28, Fox host Tammy Bruce claimed that Biden is “weaponizing” the IRS “to advance his war on wealthy Americans” by increasing funding for enforcement.
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Citation From the April 28, 2021, edition of Fox News Primetime

  • Earlier in the same show, Bruce argued that the proposal is about “class warfare,” claiming, “The American people are hearing, 'Well, only the rich.' This is where this class division happens.”
  • On Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade complained that Biden “wants to hike taxes to $1.5 trillion of those horrible people that earn money for a living, that make over $400,000.” Kilmeade later dismissed the popularity of raising taxes on the wealthy by arguing, “If you ask people do you want to go to Disneyland every day, that’s popular. But is it logical? Is it feasible? Is it practical? No.”

Fox spin: Money for education is designed to benefit left-leaning teachers unions

Teachers unions have been a regular target on Fox throughout the pandemic. Measures in the American Families Plan designed to improve American education — including universal preschool, two years of free community college, Pell Grant expansion, and training for teachers — have been denounced on Fox as an effort to line the pockets of Democratic allies.

  • On April 29, Fox contributor and former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett dismissed additional spending on education as a “reward” for teachers: “It’s the teachers unions. They’ve got their hands out. They’re telling him they want more money. He’s going to give them more money.” Bennett also claimed, “Someone needs to think about not spending more and more, hundreds of millions more, but straightening out what’s in those classrooms once those kids are back in those classrooms.”
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Citation From the April 29, 2021, edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom

  • Earlier that morning on Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy cited a piece by the Wall Street Journal arguing that we already “tried” to address many of the issues Biden’s proposal would target — through programs like Head Start, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, and food stamps — and that these programs “fail[ed].” In fact, Head Start, WIC, and food stamps have all proved to improve outcomes for participants.
  • Appearing on America Reports on April 28, Americans for Tax Reform founder Grover Norquist claimed the increased spending on education constituted a “huge payoff to the teachers union which put so much money into electing Biden and the Democratic narrow majorities. And this is money that will get recycled through union dues into the next election. So they’re pre-funding the next election.”
  • On America’s Newsroom the same day, Fox contributor Katie Pavlich argued that “after the last year of teachers unions refusing to go back to work, even though they jumped the lines on vaccines, of people seeing their hard-earned property taxes going to schools that are funding this critical race theory and doxxing parents for wanting to push back on that kind of curriculum, I’m not so sure there’s an appetite, even among Democrats in a lot of these places, to be funding more of what they’ve seen over the past year in terms of the public school system.’’

Fox spin: The American Families Plan will damage an already fragile economy

Opponents of Biden’s proposal have suggested that increased taxes — coupled with the corporate tax increases proposed in the American Jobs Plan — would hamper the economy just as the country emerges from the pandemic. In fact, current low capital gains tax rates do little to boost economic growth and the proposed tax hikes would apply to an extremely small proportion of U.S. taxpayers.

Some have also raised concerns that increased government spending could spur runaway inflation. While inflation is possible, the predictions voiced on Fox seem unlikely.

  • On the April 28 edition of Your World with Neil Cavuto, former Trump administration official Russell Vought argued, “I think all of these job-killing taxes are going to really cause us to have not just an inability to pay for the spending but a really damaging economy.”
  • Appearing on The Story with Martha McCallum, Fox anchor Bret Baier claimed, “You supercharge this economy that’s already cooking, and you could have some serious issues as we’ve talked about many times.” Anchor Martha MacCallum responded, “Yeah, you could have inflation, you could have rising gas prices which I think is going to have an impact on this down the road.”
  • On America’s Newsroom, Fox contributor Newt Gingrich claimed, “You have the kind of tax increases and regulatory increases that Biden is asking for, you’re going to crush this economy as it is just beginning to come out of the whole COVID-imposed recession.” Gingrich continued, “He's faced with a huge increase in inflation that is coming down the road.”
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Citation From the April 28, 2021, edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom

Fox spin: Biden’s proposals would implement socialism and “cradle-to-grave government”

On Fox, the American Families Plan, like countless other Democratic policy proposals, was immediately denounced as socialism. Of course, higher taxes and increased spending on education and child care do not constitute socialism. Some Fox personalities have also tagged Biden’s proposals as “cradle-to-grave government,” given that Biden has now proposed additional funding for early childhood education and elder care, among other programs. The label implies extraordinary government intervention, when in reality, the American Families Plan and the American Jobs Plan would implement spending that is already standard in many industrialized countries.

  • On April 29, America’s Newsroom co-anchor Dana Perino referred to Biden’s proposals as “cradle-to-grave government.”
  • On the April 28 edition of The Story, MacCallum argued, “You talk about cradle-to-grave protection and safety net. … It’s like give it all to us, we’re going to take care of your family for you while you go to work.”
  • On The Five, Pavlich argued, “When you have half of ‘the squad’ saying they are very impressed with Joe Biden's leftist progressive agenda, he's on the road to socialism and it's not a good one for the American people to be on.”
  • Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt claimed, “This is called socialism. Free everything. Free everything. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, didn’t you learn that in your economics class in high school.”
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Citation From the April 28, 2021, edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends