Paul L. Caron

Monday, October 13, 2008

WSJ: Obama's Tax Cut for 95% of Americans Is an Illusion

Editorial in today's Wall Street Journal: Obama's 95% Illusion; It Depends on What the Meaning of "Tax Cut" Is:

One of Barack Obama's most potent campaign claims is that he'll cut taxes for no less than 95% of "working families." He's even promising to cut taxes enough that the government's tax share of GDP will be no more than 18.2% -- which is lower than it is today.

It's a clever pitch, because it lets him pose as a middle-class tax cutter while disguising that he's also proposing one of the largest tax increases ever on the other 5%. But how does he conjure this miracle, especially since more than a third of all Americans already pay no income taxes at all? There are several sleights of hand, but the most creative is to redefine the meaning of "tax cut." ...

Mr. Obama is proposing to create or expand no fewer than seven [tax] credits for individuals:

  1. A $500 tax credit ($1,000 a couple) to "make work pay" that phases out at income of $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 per couple.
  2. A $4,000 tax credit for college tuition.
  3. A 10% mortgage interest tax credit (on top of the existing mortgage interest deduction and other housing subsidies).
  4. A "savings" tax credit of 50% up to $1,000.
  5. An expansion of the earned-income tax credit that would allow single workers to receive as much as $555 a year, up from $175 now, and give these workers up to $1,110 if they are paying child support.
  6. A child care credit of 50% up to $6,000 of expenses a year.
  7. A "clean car" tax credit of up to $7,000 on the purchase of certain vehicles.

Wsj_obama_tax_cut_5 Here's the political catch. All but the clean car credit would be "refundable," which is Washington-speak for the fact that you can receive these checks even if you have no income-tax liability. In other words, they are an income transfer -- a federal check -- from taxpayers to nontaxpayers. ...

Because Mr. Obama's tax credits are phased out as incomes rise, they impose a huge "marginal" tax rate increase on low-income workers. The marginal tax rate refers to the rate on the next dollar of income earned. As the nearby chart illustrates, the marginal rate for millions of low- and middle-income workers would spike as they earn more income. ...   

One mystery -- among many -- of the McCain campaign is why it has allowed Mr. Obama's 95% illusion to go unanswered.

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Posted by: WAYNE | Jan 22, 2009 8:11:28 AM

this is why obama will be elected. now can he straighten this out, I doubt that anyone can do it in two years. but given 8 which hell need, it will get done. america will be better for it.

State of the Union 2008
By The Numbers
WASHINGTON -- President Bush is expected to address problems in the nation’s economy while hailing the state of the union as strong tonight, but for Americans worrying about how to make ends meet, the country is headed in the wrong direction, according to numbers compiled today by the Campaign for America’s Future.


-- Median household income in 2000 (inflation-adjusted): $49,158
-- Median household income in 2006: $48,201
-- 8-year increase in median household income in 2001: $6,000
-- 6-year decrease in median household income in 2007: $1,100
[U.S. Census Bureau, 2000 - 2007]

-- Salary of a full-time minimum wage employee without vacation: $12,168
-- Average salary of a CEO of one of America’s top 500 companies: $15.2 million
[Forbes Magazine, May 3, 2007]

-- Number of Americans living in poverty in 2001: 31.6 million
-- Number of Americans living in poverty in 2008: 36.5 million
[U.S. Census Bureau, Aug. 2007]

-- Amount more Americans earned than spent in 2001: +2.3 percent
-- Amount less Americans are earning than spending in 2008: -0.5 percent
[Bureau of Economic Analysis]

-- Total consumer credit debt in 2001: $7.65 trillion
-- Total consumer credit debt in 2008: $12.8 trillion
[Insurance Information Institute]

-- Decrease in median income from 2000-2006 in White American households: $745
-- Decrease in median income from 2000-2006 in African American households: $2,766
-- Decrease in median income from 2000-2006 in Hispanic American households: $1,043
-- Decrease in median income from 2000-2006 in Asian American households: $1,381
[U.S. Census Bureau. Aug. 2007]

-- Median income of African American households in 2006: $31,969
-- Median income of Hispanic American households in 2006: $37,781
-- Median income of White American households in 2006: $50,673
-- Median income of Asian American households in 2006: $63,900
[U.S. Census Bureau. Aug. 2007]

-- African Americans living in poverty in 2006: 24.3 percent
-- Hispanic Americans living in poverty in 2006: 20.6 percent
-- Asian Americans living in poverty in 2006: 10.1 percent
-- White Americans living in poverty in 2006: 8.2 percent
[U.S. Census Bureau. Aug. 2007]


-- Percentage increase in home foreclosures in the last year: 68
[RealtyTrac. Dec. 19, 2007]


-- Total number of American manufacturing jobs in 2000: 17,263,000
-- Total number of American manufacturing jobs in 2006: 14,197,000
-- Number of American manufacturing jobs lost between 2000 and 2006: 3,066,000
[Bureau of Labor Statistics]

-- Yearly average number of new private sector jobs created from 1992-2000: 1.76 million
-- Yearly average number of new private sector jobs created from 2001-2008: 369,000
[Bureau of Labor Statistics]

-- Jobless African American workers in Dec. 2007: 9.0 percent
-- Jobless Hispanic American workers in Dec. 2007: 6.3 percent
-- Jobless White American workers in Dec. 2007: 4.4 percent
-- Jobless Asian American workers in Dec. 2007: 3.7 percent
[U.S. Department of Labor Employment Situation Summary, Jan. 4, 2008]


-- Average price of a gallon of home heating oil in Jan. 2000: $1.40
-- Average price of a gallon of home heating oil in Jan. 2008: $3.39
[U.S. Energy Information Administration]

-- Average price of a gallon of gas in Jan. 2000: $1.59
-- Average price of a gallon of gas in Jan. 2008: $3.14
[U.S. Energy Information Administration]

-- Increase in the average price of home heating oil since Jan. 2000: +142 percent
-- Increase in the average price of gas since Jan. 2000: +98 percent

-- Price of a gallon of home heating oil in the winter of 2001-2002 (inflation adjusted): $1.36
-- Projected price of a gallon of home heating oil in the winter of 2007-2008: $3.32
[Energy Administration, Jan. 2008]

-- Amount of U.S. liquid fuel consumption that was imported in 2001: 52.75 percent
-- Amount of U.S. liquid fuel consumption that is imported in 2008: 60.38 percent
[U.S. Energy Information Administration]

-- Exxon Mobil profits in 2000: $7.9 billion
-- Exxon Mobil profits in 2006: $36.1 billion
-- Exxon Mobil’s profit per second during the second quarter of 2006: $1,318
[, July 27, 2006; Fortune500 2006]


-- Americans without health insurance in 2000: 38.4 million
-- Americans without health insurance in 2006: 46.9 million
[U.S. Census Bureau, Aug. 2007]

-- Decrease over 2 years in the number of uninsured Americans in 2001: 4.5 million
-- Increase over 6 years in the number of uninsured Americans in 2008: 8.5 million
[U.S. Census Bureau, Aug. 2007]

-- Number of children without health insurance: 8.7 million
-- Number of times President Bush vetoed additional health insurance for children: 2
[U.S. Census Bureau, Aug. 2007]

-- Americans receiving employment-based health insurance in 2000: 64.2 percent
-- Americans receiving employment-based health insurance in 2006: 59.7 percent
[U.S. Census Bureau, Aug. 2007]

-- Annual cost of family health insurance premiums in 2000 (inflation adjusted): $7,643
-- Annual cost of family health insurance premiums in 2006: $11,480
[Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research and Educational Trust]

-- Uninsured White Americans in 2006: 10.8 percent
-- Uninsured African Americans in 2006: 20.5 percent
-- Uninsured Asians Americans in 2006: 15.5 percent
-- Uninsured Hispanic Americans in 2006: 34.1 percent
[U.S. Census Bureau, Aug. 2007]


-- Average cost per year at a public four-year college in 2000: $10,153
-- Average cost per year at a public four-year college in 2006: $13,089
[CollegeBoard, 2007]

-- Average yearly change in tuition costs for public four-year college since 2000: +29 percent
-- Average percent change in median household income during same period: -2 percent
-- Average debt shouldered by 2006 college graduates: $21,000
[The Project on Student Debt, Sept. 2007]


-- Number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq before the “Mission Accomplished” speech in 2003: 139
-- Number of US troops killed in Iraq as of Jan. 2008: 3,907
-- Number of Iraqi deaths after U.S. invasion: 1,139,602
[, Jan. 3, 2008]

-- Number of US troops wounded in Iraq before the “Mission Accomplished” speech: 542
-- Number of U.S. troops wounded in Iraq as of Jan. 2008: 28,661
[, Jan. 3, 2008]

-- Amount of total world military spending spent by U.S.: 47 percent
[Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation]

-- Total U.S. military expenditures requested for 2008: $644 billion
-- Total military expenditures of the 10 next top spending countries combined: $446.1 billion
[Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. Includes China, Russia, U.K., France, Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, India and Brazil, Feb. 5, 2007]

-- U.S. military base budget in 2001: $297.1 billion
-- US pending military base budget 2008, not including Iraq and Afghanistan: $481.4 billion
[White House Office of Management and Budget, Feb. 5, 2007]

-- U.S. budget spent on military not including Iraq in 2007: 50 percent
-- U.S. budget spent on education in 2007: 6.2 percent
[White House Office of Management and Budget, Feb. 6, 2006.]

-- Number of active duty army divisions rated at the highest readiness levels in 2001: All
-- Number of active duty or reserve brigade in the U.S. considered fully combat ready: 0
[Speaker of the House, Nov. 29, 2007]


-- The national debt in 2001: $5.7 trillion
-- The national debt in Jan. 2008: $9.2 trillion
[U.S. Dept. of the Treasury]

-- Monthly U.S. trade deficit in Oct. 2000: $33.8 billion
-- Monthly U.S. trade deficit in Oct. 2007: $57.8 billion
-- U.S. trade deficit in 2000: $380 billion
-- U.S. trade deficit in 2007: $759 billion
[U.S. Census Bureau, Dec. 12, 2007]

-- Value of one Euro in Jan. 2000: $1.01
-- Value of one Euro in Jan. 2008: $1.45
-- Loss of value of the Dollar relative to the Euro from Jan. 2000 to Jan. 2008: 45 percent
[Federal Reserve Statistical Release]

-- Value of an ounce of gold in 2000 (inflation adjusted): $319
-- Value of an ounce of gold in 2008: $892
[, Jan. 22 2008]

-- U.S. budget surplus in 2000: +$236 billion
-- U.S. budget deficit in 2007: -$354 billion
[House Office of Management and Budget]


-- Increase in consumer product safety spending from 2000 to 2006: 9 percent
-- Increase in number of U.S. imports from 2000 to 2006: 30 percent
[Consumer Federation of America]

-- Increase in the number of federal food inspections from 2000 to 2006: 8 percent
-- Percentage increase in number of agricultural imports from 2000 to 2006: 39 percent
-- Number of cases of food borne disease outbreaks in 2006: 25,659
[U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Food & Drug Administration, Center for Disease Control]


-- Number of people abroad who viewed America favorably in 2001: 58.3 percent
-- Number of people abroad who viewed America favorably in 2007: 39.2 percent
[Pew Research Center]

-- Number of people in Great Britain who viewed America favorably in 2001: 83 percent
-- Number of people in Great Britain who viewed America favorably in 2007: 56 percent
[Pew Research Center]

-- Number of people in Indonesia who viewed America favorably in 2001: 75 percent
-- Number of people in Indonesia who viewed America favorably in 2007: 30 percent
[Pew Research Center]

-- Number of people in Germany who viewed America favorably in 2001: 78 percent
-- Number of people in Germany who viewed America favorably in 2007: 37 percent
[Pew Research Center

Posted by: royal | Nov 3, 2008 1:59:08 PM

On paper I am one of the 5% of "wealthy small business owners" that Obama likes to vilify. Yet my goal is to live modestly, grow my company responsibly, sell it, and meaningfully share in the benefits with my incredible team. My company is built on a strategy of reinvestment of profits, without even a penny of outside investment over our entire 20 year history.

Over the past 6 months, I have increased staff 15% despite the terrible economy. Our unconventional strategy (self-funded growth) is working! But it won't if Obama wins.

Obama has catchy sound bytes of how 98% of small businesses earn less than $250k profits a year. What he doesn't say is that these are almost entirely one or two person micro businesses who don't reinvest, who don't create good jobs for the middle class, and who only have 1/20th the economic impact of the very small percentage of small businesses who are truly creating jobs and positively impacting the economy.

Obama's justification for his tax increase: The business owner gets to pocket >$250k in profits, and how much does he really need? He can easily forego more of that take-home for the greater good of the beleaguered middle class. Here’s the key point: Any small business with a goal of growth and job creation has to leave net profits in the company to fuel that growth and job creation, not give them to the owner. Profits are NOT "take home" for the owner!

Obama's "plan" means that every $1 my company retains after taxes from its own earnings to enable growth costs 82 cents – that’s an annual percentage rate of 82%! If a small business lender were charging 82% APR, they'd be prosecuted for predatory lending. But it will be our own US government taking the role of “predatory lender” here! By making profit reinvestment nearly as expensive as a payday loan, Obama’s plan forces companies to rely even more on outside debt and investment - BUT come, these were the very things that led to the meltdown! And how will new emerging, disadvantaged or non-creditworthy companies ever get off the ground in this sort of environment?

Obama also mistakenly assumes all of today’s >$250k small business profits would remain eligible for his highest two personal tax brackets. If Obama is elected, every successful small business owner I know will simply convert to a C-corporation, whose profits are taxed at a much lower rate than Obama’s plan. We have no choice if we are to keep any hope of cost effective reinvestment, self-funded growth, and sustainable success. Bottom line: The tax revenues Obama projects will never materialize. His plan simply doesn’t take this into account. Most growing small businesses will reorganize, many will simply cease to exist. There will be a precipitous decline in employment for the middle class Obama is claiming to protect.

I guess this is what the People's Republic of America looks like. I'm hoping this is just all a bad dream that I wake up from on November 5th.

Posted by: Fed up small business owner | Oct 30, 2008 7:33:44 AM

The IRS is already a giant welfare agency distributing refundable credits to non taxpayers. Earned Income Credit and Additional Child Tax Credit are both refundable.

Go to and read the EITC publication 596

Imagine you have no job and a couple of kids, just like your neighbor. Jan-Nov you and neighbor both collect food stamps. Then in December you hire each other to do yard work, subsequently paying each other $12,000 of self employment non employee compensation income. In January file your tax return, collect social security credit, and get THOUSANDS of DOLLARS of "REFUND" without paying in a dime of income tax.

What this country needs is a true alternative minimum tax of $1,000/person. The majority of tax filers don't know the difference between their return and their refund. They've never paid a dime of tax and equate filing with free money.

Posted by: obamaisahalfwitliar | Oct 22, 2008 12:35:40 PM

Based on your photo your views on the use of tax credits for low income workers might be forgiven. These credits are a modification of Milton Friedman's idea of a Negative Income Tax (early 1960's). The idea is that if income is below an established minimum the worker receives a tax subsidy. The subsidy decreases at a constant rate until income reaches a breakeven level at which time the worker begins to pay taxes. The idea is to make work more attractive than welfare. Unfortunately, the effective marginal rate has to be relatively high in order to keep the breakeven level low enough to avoid tax losses. However, as previous comments indicate, the worker's average tax rate is lower. You can read about Friedman's idea in just about any standard principles of economics textbook. The EITC (must have children) is a modified verson of the NIT. It's been an effective anti-poverty program. A good conservative idea.

Posted by: glh17 | Oct 20, 2008 6:02:51 PM

I am not an economist, but Obama's plan just does not add up for me.

Five percent, will pay for a tax cut for 95%.
Five percent, will pay for health care for all.
Five percent, will pay for the bailout of the banks.
Five percent, will pay for better schools.
Five percent, will pay for tuition tax credit.
Five percent, will pay for expanded stem cell research.
Five percent, will pay for broadband access for everyone.
Five percent, will pay for a "digital smart grid" (what ever that is?).
Five percent, will pay for American car companies new energy efficient cars.
Five percent, will pay for an expanded war in Afghanistan (10,000 more troops for Afghanistan).
Five percent, will pay for the new war in Pakistan to find Osama bin Laden.
Five percent, will pay for new jobs for unemployed.
Five percent, will pay for better salaries for the 95%.
Five percent, will pay for the new technologies for energy independence, in 10 years.
Five percent, will pay for all the stimulus the economy needs.
Five percent, will pay for finish building 100-year protection by 2011 for New Orleans.
Five percent, will pay for lower the national dept.
Five percent, will pay for restoring the Everglades.
Five percent, will pay for to eliminate capital gains taxes for the small businesses and the start-ups.
Five percent, will pay for new roads and bridges for the country.
Five percent, will pay for tax credits for companies that create domestic jobs.

Five percent, will not move their investments into tax free areas like government bonds.
Five percent, will not take advantage of tax loop holes.
Five percent, will not hide moneys.
Five percent, will not raise prices they have control over to offset the taxes.
Five percent, will not eliminate jobs to offset the taxes.
Five percent, professional couples will not send one home to take care of their children.
Five percent, will not notice they have enough money they don’t have to work anymore and just go home.

Five percent, will not any way impede the government’s ambitions on “their” money.

Five percent, will not get any representation in the new government.
Five percent, will not get any thanks in the new government.

Does this make sense? Even if it worked, would be moral?

Posted by: Earl Johnson | Oct 19, 2008 1:34:56 PM

The 250k mark is still confusing.This question was posed on Fox news to an Obama higher up and when asked is the 250 mark adjusted or gross,she said gross income.WOW! I'll get killed.Unfortunately it is not clear if you are taxed at higher rate for every dollar past 250 or it is retroactive back to dollar one.

On another note for all you spread the wealth idiots, show me a skinny social services recipient.Even better show me one that does not drink or smoke.What is amazing is that this is the norm.What needs to be told is that the blacks whom will be recipient to much of the tax credits in Obamas new plan,are subservient to the very party that put them into poverty and created the Ghetto's which are alive and well.It is no accident that the blacks are clustered into multi-dwellings of cities around the country under the guise of section 8.I live in Peekskill,NY.It is an absolute disgrace what the Democratic party does to the black people under the stigma of 'we are helping the poor people'This is not help,I see the black kids with a single mom and the street that is laden with drug dealers.They grow up the same and grow up thinking the white guy who has got a few bucks is racist.The Democratic Party is where racism begins as this system is nothing more than keeping the 'dum niggers' in their own private neighborhood away from the surrounding lovely white neighborhoods.I used to be a Democrat until I moved here.Then I began to get involved in some local politics,began to get educated and the cold truths began to emerge.The Mayor here who was recently elected is a tool for the Democratic machine.She and her staff are no more qualified to be in government than your next door neighbor.Obama is not either,as he will be a tool for the real leaders Nancy Pelosi and company.When you see the Democratic parties' true colors it all begins to fall into place.You would think that throwing more money at a proven failed system doesn't make any sense and we would learn from the mistakes.Well,when the best kept secret in Democratic politics is 'racism' you have your answer.

Incidently,I happen to be a white guy.

Posted by: Kevin Kergil | Oct 18, 2008 6:16:25 PM

Fraq me, it made sense to me when I wrote it. Still does in a way, but I did write that rather confusingly. I'll try again, being more specific.

But marginal tax rates aren't total tax rates. Total tax rates are still going to be south of what they currently are. Yeah, if you make more money than you do currently, you're going to be paying more taxes. That's a given, regardless of who is in office. (Maybe not if McCain does make it and he does get his way, but then you probably ARE making $250,000 or more...) It's pretty facetious when you complain that an income increase is going to increase your taxes at a bigger rate (hence the increase in marginal taxes), when the total taxes paid with the same increase in income without the proposed plan will be more. Does the average taxpayer really care about marginal tax rates when he/she just wants to know what the bottom line is?

Confusing marginal tax rates with total tax rates is much more illusional.

I'm not an economist, nor a CPA, but I do have a grasp of mathematics (English writing obviously less so). And with a 11+ trillion deficit, I can also state that we really need to be raising taxes on everybody AND do some serious budget cutting. Because nobody's going to bail the US out when/if the US starts having the same problems that have gone on the past couple of weeks. If we aren't too late already.

As far as creating a perverse incentive not to work, why did we have multimillionaires when their marginal tax rate hit 90% not that long ago? And how many of the current multibillionaires and multimillionaires would stop doing what they're doing because of tax issues, or are they going to continue to do it because they love to do it? The history of tax rates makes that claim a lie. I'd love to have that problem!

Maybe it affects you that way. Evidently you don't love what you do for a living, it's just for the money and I urge you to seek something else that you do actually enjoy doing.

Bryan Price NOT Bryan Price is an idiot. (only one real use of would in this version...) :-p

Posted by: Bryan Price | Oct 16, 2008 9:49:49 PM

Rich: Like 5 yr olds with permission to vote.

Ah, ACORN sign-ups!

Posted by: muck | Oct 15, 2008 3:20:49 PM

Wait. I ams hoping to quit my job, stay home, drink malt liquor, watch Oprah, and have the government send me a monthly check for doing so.

It's called hope and change and it's what the neocons don't understand.

Nice blog, Paul!

Posted by: muck | Oct 15, 2008 3:19:22 PM

So if marginal rates are the true evil, we should just require everyone to contribute $10000, no matter what their income. There, marginal rates of zero. (If you don't have $10000, it's hard labor in debtors' prison for ya). Better yet, we could have negative marginal rates by taxing everyone $20000 or more, then giving some back to those with high incomes. CEO making a million dollars? Here, have another $200k, courtesy of the taxpayers, to thank you for working so hard. Those negative marginal rates will definitely incentivise all of us to become CEOs.

Look, it takes money to run the system. I think it's fair to ask those who're making the most money within the system to contribute the most towards keeping it running. Hence, progressive taxation.

And for those who've forgotten their calculus -- when you've got the derivative of a function, and you integrate to determine the original function, you're left with an unknown constant. In this case, I'm fairly sure the example was contrived such that the hypothetical couple would receive the maximum tax cut if they made $25k and little or no tax cut if they made $125k. Hence higher marginal rates, even if the actual tax rate was lower at all income levels.

Posted by: lilnev | Oct 15, 2008 2:56:38 PM

Other groups have questioned Obama's statments about taxes, including Brookings and The Tax Foundation.

One thing Obama overlooks (and those eager to get their mitts on money from 'the rich'): many who earn more than $250k a year cannot rely on that money every year. The plumber in Ohio is a good example. He cannot project what his business will earn. The downturn in housing, for example, means fewer installations and a greater emphasis on repairs which usually bill out at a lower level.

Another item no one has asked about--his statement he would "create 5 million jobs." Why would we be eager to continue to shuttle jobs to the government rather than to the private sector?

Obama is relying heavily on Clinton economists. Here's an interesting lift from an article published shortly after Democrats regained control of Congress:
>>>"That was fast. A mere two days after Democrats capture Congress claiming they wouldn't raise taxes, former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin tells them they should do so anyway."
--The Wall Street Journal, 'Rubin's Tax Gambit' 11-14-06 *Rubin at the time was the Democratic Party's leading economic spokesman.

Posted by: Kay B. Day | Oct 15, 2008 9:22:25 AM

"If Obama does not become president, there will be a revolution."


Luckily the left is for gun control so we just have to worry about some hippies chuckin' bongs at us.

Funny how its always the "make love not war", so-called tolerant left always resorting to violence when they don't get their way. Like 5 yr olds with permission to vote.

Posted by: Rich | Oct 14, 2008 5:02:46 PM

Note the comment on this graph: for two-income earners with a child in college and one getting chilcare. That's a VERY specific demographic. To understand the limitations of the stipulated demographic, look closer at the chart. it claims a CURRENT tax rate of 0% for 45k income. Now WSJ readers may not know this, but 0% is NOT the currnet marginal tax rate for most people earning 45k. Furthermore, the article claims that 44% of the population would pay NO tax under an Obama plan. They hopefully realize that this is equivalent to an income over 45k? This means that Obama's graph should show 0% for ALL incomes up to about 45k (i think 50k is median us income). That is evidently NOT what it shows. Two further questions: please epxlain the spike at 25k. This is very implausible. What i'd like to emphasize is that VERY FEW people earning under 45k fit the 'two earner, one child in college, one in child care' demographic. And the WSJ know it. This is statistical manipulation of a very high order. Obama may well be wrong about a '95% tax cut' claim (and i suspect he is), but this is classic fiddling with statistics. Unless the WSJ is claiming that only two-income earners with one child in college and one in child care count as taxpayers (i think the IRS will tell them that's false). A question for WSJ: is it true that on Obama's plan only 5% face a tax INCREASE?

Posted by: ReasonableRejection | Oct 14, 2008 3:34:05 PM

Can't believe everybody here has missed major point: every year, more and more people are getting caught up in AMT. The Obama knows this, so he can float a tax credit that will end up being taken away.

Posted by: jeff | Oct 14, 2008 1:48:02 PM

As an economist I can tell you this article is based on facts and is very legitimate.

Posted by: CsemaJ | Oct 14, 2008 11:18:15 AM

Ted the topic is Federal Income Taxes. Sales taxes are a State matter. FICA is according to the socialists an insurance annuity. Also don't forget as an employee you only pay half of it. Your employer pays the other half. So for the top 5% especially the ones whose revenue is almost all ordinary income not only do they pay nearly all of the income taxes but also get jammed with a disproportionate amount of FICA taxes as well, far in excess of what ever benefit they will ever collect. And that is only on the employee side for the top 5%. The scam is even worse if you are self employed and pay both as employee and employer or as a business owner paying for your employer contribution for your employees. Gas taxes are use taxes to maintain the roads you use. Those who pay the bulk of the income taxes rarely get the benefits of the bulk of government spending.

As for Bryan's comments about marginal rates, spoken like someone who has never paid any substantial amount in taxes.Probably one of the democrat parasites. When your next dollar is taxed at a much higher rate unless you can earn substantially more money to offset the effort of earning the money the next marginal dollar will cost you, it is just easier to not earn the the extra money. Doctors, lawyers and other professionals will simply take longer vacations or more days off. Depending on the size and nature of the business, small business owners will do the same.

There are net taxpayers and net tax consumers. It is time to limit the vote to net taxpayers (for the House of Representatives). When the tax burden gets too high on the those who are net payers, the tax evasion will be massive beyond belief. The super rich will simply take their money out of the country. Just like the Kennedy's.

Posted by: cubanbob | Oct 14, 2008 9:41:18 AM

1. If it sounds too good to be true, it is.

2. If it can't go on forever, it won't.

You're very entertaining lefties, but the show will close after 2 years. Enjoy your ride.

Posted by: Trouble | Oct 14, 2008 9:26:33 AM

As an economist I can tell you this article is based on falsity and is very misleading.

Posted by: JamesC | Oct 14, 2008 8:54:10 AM

Wells is partially correct except for one fact: all those additional "taxes", sales tax, FICA, gas taxes, etc. are paid with AFTER TAX DOLLARS. Dollars that have already been TAXED at the FEDERAL level. So you're just blowin' smoke when you call it a scam.

Posted by: Ferd Berfel | Oct 14, 2008 8:02:03 AM

Ted, but Obama is not talking about a "tax cut" for sales taxes, Social Security taxes, or gas taxes, for 95% of the families, is he?
McCain is the one talking about cutting the gas taxes, so you must be a big supporter of him, right?

The question remains, how can you have a "tax cut" in the income taxes for millions of people who already pay zero or negative income taxes.

If he was talking about a "tax cut" for combined-income-and-payroll taxes by reducing both, then we wouldn't be complaining about the tax cuts going to non-taxpayers. But that is not what he is advocating.

Posted by: | Oct 14, 2008 7:57:22 AM

Once again, there is a certain segment that does indeed pay those taxes. The working poor actually pay NO PAYROLL TAXES because they get it back via EITC. On top of that, they get to retain the credits for the payroll tax payments upon eligibility, thus they get credit for something that they didn't pay.

When the context is the income tax, then it's okay to say that some are "non-taxpayers". I'm quite sure that someone who bought a bottle of wine in some state paid some alcohol tax & so they'd really be 'taxpayers', but that's an aside and, frankly, an attempt at muddying the water.

It's not a one-to-one ratio and I'm not claiming that, but chances are that a good chunk of the ~45% who pay no federal income taxes are eligible for the EITC, thus they pay no FICA (since they get it about scams).

I really wish people would stop trying to use that argument (not that you did, since you didn't single out the working poor). Pet peeve....

Posted by: RW | Oct 14, 2008 7:56:11 AM

"Total tax rates are still going to be south of what they would be."

What? No they aren't. Total tax rates are going to be higher, not lower. Rates for the rich are going up.

"They pay sales taxes, FICA, gas taxes, etc"

Those generally aren't federal taxes, and not all localities even have those. It's entirely possible to pay no net tax at all.

Also, FICA is not even supposed to be a "tax" but rather a mandatory savings plan. It's only because Democrats designed it as an unsustainable Ponzi scheme 50 years ago that people are now forced to give a large percentage of their income to support an idle class far larger than originally envisioned.

Posted by: TallDave | Oct 14, 2008 7:51:30 AM

I would like to see a 90% tax on the richest people. If Obama does not become president, there will be a revolution. All these CEOs with 100M salaries will hopefully go away to Bahamas or some banana republic.

McCains campaign knows that the people can no longer be fooled with the right wing rhetoric any longer. People can see whats happening to the schools, the roads and infrastructure when the rich people do not want to pay for anything. FICA goes up every year, gas prices are high, with most of it going to the oil companies, not to the gas tax. RIch people are getting credits on their hummers and their 10ton SUVs. Posters here, if they are in the working class, are the fools.

Posted by: Disagreeable | Oct 14, 2008 7:25:17 AM

kitkat - yep toss out 'accrual accounting' as if you know what you're talking about. And somehow Bush isn't COLLECTING taxes? Gee, I wish someone had told ME that - we don't really have to pay, I guess. That really worked well for Wesley Snipes and HIS accountant.

Get a grip. Marginal rates are important, and people DO pay attention to them. People will always watch out for their own pocketbooks (Not everyone, but plenty - enough to make marginal rates a Very Important behavioral motivator).

And your 60 senators/White House is a threat to the Wall Street Journal because ... why? Or is the plan to shut down the WSJ editorial page AND Rush Limbaugh? I see. It becomes very clear who the fascists are....

Posted by: CPA1 | Oct 14, 2008 7:16:34 AM

The confusion here strikes me as mainly semantic; the WSJ reasoning is quite simple. Instead of using terms like "welfare payment," "refundable tax credit," etc., just think in terms of total income. Under the Obama plan, all these tax credits amount to an additional salary from the government. As your other sources of income grow, your government salary is decreased. The amount it is decreased functions identically to a tax increase, with the exception that the government is keeping your money from the start. In other words, for every amount x your other-than-governmental sources of income increase, your government paycheck decreases by a % of x. That % is your defacto tax rate, regardless of vocabulary.

As far as the effect of marginal tax rates on productivity, anyone who believes there impact is non-existent or, uh, marginal, is simply not qualified to participate in the conversation. It doesn't mean that opinions on their effect cannot credibly differ, or the worthwhileness of the trade-off, or many other things, but to deny or minimize the impact of marginal tax rates is a fantasy of one or another sort.

Posted by: Joe Y | Oct 14, 2008 7:16:27 AM

I won't pretend to understand the economic terminology, but I understand the consequences for individuals and their families. Years ago I worked with a woman who had a fairly low paying, entry level job. She was offered a better paying position, but didn't feel she could afford to take it because it would disqualify her for many of the benefits that she needed to get by with the kids, and the salary increase would not be enough to offset the loss.
Neither one of us knew enough about economics to talk about marginal tax rates, but with a high school diploma she could figure out that the system effectively trapped her in a low wage job.

Posted by: JeanE | Oct 14, 2008 6:51:24 AM

Also, it's hardly true that people who don't pay federal income tax are "non-taxpayers". They pay sales taxes, FICA, gas taxes, etc. This is a common scam of the right: act as though income taxes are the only taxes there are and then complain about how unfair it is for rich people to shoulder this huge tax burden....

Posted by: Ted | Oct 14, 2008 6:27:27 AM

To Jimbo and others who claim that people don't use partial derivatives to make their economic decisions:

A good pool player doesn't have to work kinematics equations, or even know them, to make good use of those laws. And if we want to predict the shot he'll make, WE should be using those equations, because they'll be a strong indicator of what he'll do.

Both liberal and conservative approaches to macroeconomics are still not where they need to be. But the foundations of MICROeconomics (such as the demand curves and constrained optimization under a budget line) are extremely well supported. There are decades of empirical support for these models.

Trying to repudiate the laws of economics just to make Barack Obama's tax plan look good is intellectually dishonest-- and isn't going to work anyway. And it isn't going to lessen the economic damage it causes if it is passed.

We just learned a bitter lesson in adverse risk from the mortgage scandal. You can deny the laws of economics, but you can't suspend them. Spin and propaganda will only keep people from learning a valuable lesson.

Posted by: Wells | Oct 14, 2008 6:23:56 AM

Not too mention that if you raise the taxes on the rich, they will use Tax attorneys and money managers to figure out a way to actually pay less than they do now.

It is human nature and it has already been ruled on by the Supreme Court that it ever mans right to pay as little taxes as possible.

So when he adds in the new programs, and tax revenues go down. He either borrows on the future, our children, or he raises taxes on the middle class who do not have the extra income needed to take advantage of the Tax attorneys.

Simple really.

An even dumber idea is raising taxes on businesses, which will then be passed on to the consumer, again raising taxes on the lower and middle class.

Take all the democrats in Washington, add their brains together and you would not have enough economic sense to figure out a 20% tip.

Posted by: James Stephenson | Oct 14, 2008 5:49:57 AM

The Tax Policy Center has already shown the 95% claim to be a fiction. Every quintile of the income distribution -- even the lowest -- has at least 7% of its members paying higher taxes under Obama's plan.

His claim that "if you like your health care coverage you can keep it" is also hogwash. You can keep it if your employer elects to continue coverage. But since Obama's hiding the ball with the "pay" rate in his "play or pay" system no one really knows what the pickup rate will be with the "public option." Tens of millions of people could be moved into the "public option" due to decisions made by their employers. See Lewin Group's analysis of Edwards' HCA plan for analysis with a stated "pay" rate in the middle of the range.

Posted by: DrSteve | Oct 14, 2008 5:31:08 AM

Are people really using calculus to talk about tax rates, as if they were a continuous function? Really?

And as for the importance of marginal tax rates, it's true that according to microeconomic theory, they are very important. Unfortunatly, as is the case of so much microeconomic theory, 25+ years of cutting marginal tax rates has added up to zilch in the way of actual empirical proof. From the 40s to the 80s we had top marginal tax rates between 70 and 90 percent, and average economic growth in excess of 4% a year. Since Reagan cut the rates, we have been lucky to break 2.5% in the good years - and of course, have had lower overall rates of investment, which was what cutting the rates was supposed to do.

Some of the non-neoclassical economists who have been exiled from the profession in that time have pointed out that high marginal rates combined with capital gains taxes only incurred upon realization encourages individuals to leave their money in corporations. And since virtually all productive investment (as opposed to "investing" in Mcmansions) is done by corporations, that led to greater investment and higher productivity gains.

But of course, we've reached a point in this country where you don't even hear any justification in terms of public purpose for cutting taxes - what you hear instead is the adult equivalent of a toddler screaming "Mine! Mine!"

Posted by: Jimbo | Oct 14, 2008 4:41:04 AM

Obama's math just won't work. No way can he squeeze out of 5% of the people, enough money to give some back to all the other 95% AND spend spend spend on bigger government programs. Nor will that 5% sit still; because with this steepening of marginal rates, they will stop working, run away or otherwise act the way rational actors do when punished for taking risk and breaking a sweat. Obama seems not to know or care about human nature, economics, simple math, or history. It would be instructive if he or his advisers were to spend even an hour reading Amity Shlaes' excellent history of the Great Depression, "The Forgotten Man." FDR grew frustrated with the tax revenue shortfalls that arose after he jacked income tax marginal rates to about 70%. So he constructed taxes on "undistributed profits" which (IIRC) were taxes on after-tax income of corporations retained rather than dividended-out to owners (which would have triggered a second tax in their hands). This was FDR hunting the wealthy down, driving them from the economy. What is scary about the book is that it is quite clear we were well on the road to socialism under FDR, and he was quite prepared to break word and law and Constitution to take us there. It can happen again. And The One will gladly lead us.

Posted by: 0Man | Oct 14, 2008 4:02:27 AM

If Obama is elected the only solution will be revolution.

Posted by: Patriot | Oct 14, 2008 1:57:55 AM

It is absolutely true that marginal tax rates are not total taxes. The tax break definitely creates a one time shift in the net transfer arrangement. But the point of the marginal tax rate analysis is to understand the incentives affecting decisions after the tax change. As you can see from the graph there is a huge disincentive for the poor for whom this this tax cut was rationalized to earn more money. If the goal is to ensure that the underclass (read democrat voters) remains large and even attracts new members then this tax plan is ideal.

The democrats love the poor so much they wish everyone was poor. The republicans hate poverty so much they wish everyone was rich. Michelle is probably saying, "let them eat twinkies."

Posted by: car | Oct 14, 2008 1:28:12 AM

No Bryan that is incorrect the illusion is that he is giving tax cuts when in reality he is giving welfare checks to those that do not pay taxes unless they just don't file their income tax returns at all.
Let's not confuse tax cuts for all on the McCain side with redistribution of income while letting the current Bush tax cuts expire for the rest with a promise of more cuts that are not as good as they currently are under Bush. You do realize that the middle class are paying less in income tax now than they have ever before historically speaking? Guess not.
We don't have a perfect system of Govt but it is the best in the world by far and capitalism does work we have just forgotten we are a Republic and are not running our Govt but instead are letting the supposed representatives run us and become wealthy off of special interests and large corps. Our task is easy, vote out the socialists and Marxists and the professional politicians and vote in honest everyday people starting at the local levels and keep them honest or throw them out too. McCain isn't my favorite but he and Palin are the only choice now for freedom and to keep our Constitution in tact for the future.
Everyone needs to get a grip and look at the facts. Obama is a hardcore leftist, socialist, liar and a racist to boot while McCain isn't perfect he is honorable and honest and does at least fight against corruption when he finds it.
Vote for honesty and our Republic not lies and socialism...

Posted by: Carlos F. | Oct 13, 2008 11:44:05 PM

"without the plan your total tax bill would be higher than the Democrat plan regardless."

Taxprof's post is (under Obama's tax plan) regarding people who already pay no tax getting a handout while people who already pay most of the tax paying a whole lot more (200-300%+ more) than under McCain's tax plan. This socialistic re-distribution of wealth info brought to you by someone who thinks it's a great idea:

Posted by: David | Oct 13, 2008 10:47:27 PM

> Total tax rates are still going to be south of what they would be

Nope, not if the chart is right. Total tax rates are just the definite integral of the marginal tax rate -- and for the total-tax under Obama to be less than it is now at any income level, the marginal-tax has to be less than it is now at some point to the left of that level and if you look at the chart, you see that that never happens.

Posted by: Malvolio | Oct 13, 2008 9:59:53 PM

What Obama is proposing are not tax cuts but a new set of entitlements which will be comparable to the bailouts in size. The difference is that the bailouts are supposedly a one time occurrence while these new entitlements will be a continuing drain on the economy.

Now is not a time for new entitlements because the existing Social Security entitlements are heading towards a demographic collapse in the next decade as benefit payments start to exceed FICA "premiums." The decades old policy of spending excess FICA taxes will shortly turn around and we will be forced to spend general revenues to meet current Social Security benefits.

Our best hope is to grow the economy but that will be less likely under an Obama "spread the wealth around" tax policy.

Posted by: Laurence | Oct 13, 2008 9:55:10 PM

Bryan Price,

I'm curious to understand the basis of your claim that total tax rates will be lower.

Marginal tax rates (MTRs) are the derivative of total tax rates (TTR) - basically, the change in TTR divided by the change in income. To derive TTR from MTR, you need to integrate the MTR. This is done graphically by measuring the area under the curve of the MTR.

It appears to me from the WSJ graph that the MTR under Obama's plan is higher than the current MTR at every income level between $25,000 and $125,000. This means that the area under the Obama MTR curve is higher than the current MTR, therefore in this income range the TTR is higher.

Moreover, if you look at the income range between $25,000 and $50,000, it looks like the Obama plan has a TTR that is about 75% higher than the current law. This would mean that to have equal TTR at $50,000, the Obama plan would have to be much lower than current law below $25,000, which seems implausible given the earned-income tax credit and the fact that most of these folks already have pay no income tax.

In short, the graph presented here (admittedly, just a single example) does not support your claim about TTR. But at least this graphic is based on analysis. If you have evidence or analysis that supports your claim, it would be good of you to share it. Otherwise, your claim is unconvincing.

BTW - I don't have a political axe to grind here; I'm just interested in knowing the effects of Obama's plan.


Posted by: Leo Linbeck III | Oct 13, 2008 9:51:22 PM

What Obama is proposing is that only the plantation owners have to pay taxes. Just like was done in the ante bellum South.

Posted by: Dave | Oct 13, 2008 9:50:32 PM

God God that's all we need is government making even MORE of a financial distortion in coercing people who don't need houses to try to buy them anyway. I can't imagine anything bad coming of THAT.

Posted by: Kevin | Oct 13, 2008 9:42:26 PM

What happens during his term when present tax law is eliminated with the death of Bush Tax Credits... I see this as part of his Big Lie in that the cavcelation of the tax cuts will hit almost every American, but he will claim its not something he passed... Once Again we'll have to parse every statement from a political lawyer... McCain could show how the tax cut elimination is a huge tax increase..during an Obama administration... Thanks

Posted by: AndyJ | Oct 13, 2008 9:25:45 PM

I work very hard for what I receive. It isn't all that much, when I consider that I have a family of 4 and am the sole wage earner. If someone (Bryan, are you listening?) can explain to me why it is right for me to pay more, and for someone who doesn't work as hard to receive these tax 'refunds', I am all ears.
Yeah, there are the greedy CEO's, etc..., but some people are 'rich' because they are more talented, work harder, save their money, don't spend beyond their means. Taking from people who accumulated wealth through honest effort is theft - plain and simple.

Posted by: ian | Oct 13, 2008 9:22:17 PM

And, Obama has promised to cut total spending, by finding waste in a line by line examination of government programs.

People will believe anything, and the press will ignore everything when their hope is excited.

Posted by: Andrew Garland | Oct 13, 2008 9:09:53 PM

I think the correct word for "refundable tax credit" is welfare. I'd say "charity", but that implies the person providing the funds acted voluntarily, rather than under duress.

Posted by: Taxpayer | Oct 13, 2008 9:09:14 PM

The point in discussing marginal rates, however, is that increasing them is a disincentive to work more/harder. The chart makes the point very explicitly--for somebody earning $25K per year, the amount that they take home of the next $5K is drastically reduced by Obama's plan.

Posted by: Tom | Oct 13, 2008 9:00:30 PM

One mystery -- among many -- of the McCain campaign is why it has allowed Mr. Obama's 95% illusion to go unanswered.

This debate is McCain's last chance to explain things to the American people. After that, it's just the liberal media that's going to be explaining it.\

Senator McCain, stop letting us down!

Posted by: Daryl Herbert | Oct 13, 2008 8:53:21 PM

And yet most of your commenters have been more concerned with what color ink Sarah Palin signed her form.

Posted by: rrr | Oct 13, 2008 8:49:55 PM

Bryan Price - do you know what you just wrote? Because if you do could you please explain it to me with less use of the word "would"?

Posted by: ReginaldL | Oct 13, 2008 8:48:43 PM


Do you REALLY believe he can lower taxes for 95% of Americans? That the remaining, already most highly taxed Americans, can pay the entire load?

Also, marginal tax rates are important, because they greatly affect incentives.

Posted by: John Moore | Oct 13, 2008 8:44:10 PM

"confusing marginal tax rates with total tax rates is much more illusional."

True, but the concept of marginal tax rates are much more important. "Total" tax rates are almost meaningless from an economic stand point. Marginal tax rates, however, are as significant as other marginal economic parameters because this is what the actor considers at the point of economic decision making: should I work more, should I invest more, should I save more, should I buy more.

Obama's tax plan is nothing but smoke and mirrors, and is covered up by a complicit media that will not discuss the true ramifications of it: it is not a "tax" reduction but a entitlement program.

Posted by: Mark | Oct 13, 2008 8:33:16 PM

Once again: from a microeconomics standpoint, marginal rates are tremendously important in their effects on personal decision-making. It creates a powerful incentive against the activities and decisions that create economic growth. Precisely at the time when we most need it.

Posted by: Wells | Oct 13, 2008 8:32:07 PM

Read the last two paragraphs of the linked article if you want to understand why marginal tax rates matter.

Overall, though, so long as we are operating under "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need," Obama's plan makes sense.

Posted by: Bored 3L | Oct 13, 2008 8:30:19 PM

So, Bryan, are you arguing that marginal tax rates don't count, or that it is okay to give with one hand and take away with the other while only counting the hand that is giving?

And how about explaining how you can call a give away to non-taxpayers a 'tax cut'? I guess it really is a Humpty-Dumpty world.

Posted by: JorgXMcKie | Oct 13, 2008 8:24:53 PM

Does the term "Current Law" include or exclude the various Bush Tax Cuts? There's a long list with sunset provisions, IIRC.

Posted by: Alan S. Blue | Oct 13, 2008 8:23:49 PM

"even if you have no tax liability" Any stats about how many of these non-tax payers will be getting checks?

Posted by: steve | Oct 13, 2008 8:14:38 PM

I think the important point is that you can't give a tax cut to people who arent paying taxes, which is the lie Obama is telling. He is transferring wealth from tax payers to non tax payers (a negative tax, if you will) but selling it as a tax cut somehow. And keep in mind that withholdings are likely to go up and refunds increase under Obama's plan, making especially the lower income earners more beholden to the government on a week to week basis. Its already a huge scam the the government ends up overwithholding significant portions of most Americans income interest free and the returning it in April as though its doing us a favor. All of this enhances the perceived and actual poower of government.

Posted by: Mark Buehner | Oct 13, 2008 8:10:12 PM

Yo, WSJ...ever hear of accrual accounting? Your man Bush ALREADY raised taxes by trillions, he just doesn't COLLECT taxes. Now you're drawing charts and tossin' up data explaining that a $500 refundable credit isn't really a tax cut? That's BS and you know it.

You're new man McCain plans to double down on the accrual scam and raise taxes even more. No mention of that, of course.

Thankfully, you're radical right BS is about to come to an end. President Obama. 60 Democratic Senators.

Posted by: kitkat | Oct 13, 2008 8:09:35 PM

If McCain came out and said that Obama was transferring money from the people that pay tax to the people that don't pay tax, and giving them a free check, all those people who don't pay tax and weren't going to vote WOULD go out and vote.

At least that's my theory on why he's not saying anything. McCain has let a lot of things go unanswered... and I truly fear that'll be his downfall.

And if Obama does get elected, I'm pulling all my money out of the market, because it's going to go straight down as soon as people figure out what he's going to do with a Democrat congress.

Posted by: Dean | Oct 13, 2008 8:09:14 PM


It would be nice if you could post something that wasn't complete gibberish.

Posted by: Mike M | Oct 13, 2008 8:06:08 PM

Misleading graph -- flips every tax credit/cut that gets phased out as an "increase in marginal tax rate". What a load of BS...

Posted by: | Oct 13, 2008 7:52:20 PM

Yeah, Bryan, because marginal tax rates are meaningless, huh. I guess that's why we all studied economics - to not care that increased marginal tax rates create a perverse incentive NOT to work. But I guess that is what Obama wants to reward anyways. Let's not worry about fairness in opportunity - let's only focus on fairness in outcome, and make sure the bum who is too lazy to get an education or at least a job, can get money through "tax credits" i.e. WELFARE.

Obama is a selfish piece of crap standing up for the institutionalized welfare state. And if you cannot see through this crap, you are one of them.

Posted by: Bryan Price is an idiot | Oct 13, 2008 7:23:39 PM

Bryan is exactly right. The article twists the words to make it appear that its is a tax increase. I believe this strategy was employed a few months back, and it does not hold water.

So, I would like the author to answer this. If I earn the SAME amount next year, will my tax increase or decrease.

Posted by: Disagreeable | Oct 13, 2008 6:27:43 PM

But marginal tax rates aren't total tax rates. Total tax rates are still going to be south of what they would be. Yeah, if you make more money than you would, you're going to be paying more taxes. That's a given, regardless of who is in office. It's pretty facetious when you complain that an increase is going to take away more money than what you were paying, when without the plan your total tax bill would be higher than the Democrat plan regardless.

Confusing marginal tax rates with total tax rates is much more illusional.

Posted by: Bryan Price | Oct 13, 2008 12:36:24 PM