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||DESPERATELY SEEKING DATA (PART 4)! We badly need a source of tax facts. But who in the world will provide it?|
THURSDAY, JANUARY 30, 2003
AND LIARS FIGURE: David Horowitz was playing the numbers. On Wednesday morning, the crackpot conservative debated David Corn on C-SPANS Washington Journal. Discussing President Bushs proposed tax cuts, he let his imagination take wing:
HOROWITZ: I will say that everything David just said is socialist claptrap
The reality is, you live in a market economy where you dont get jobs, you dont get economic growth, unless you give incentives to people to invest. When you take95 percent of your taxes are taken from the five percent of people who drive your economy, and then you accuse them of just talking money.
Horowitz was embellishing freely. According to Horowitz, the top five percent of earners were paying 95 percent of our taxes.
As weve mentioned, spin like this now drives our discourseand conservatives like Horowitz, shedding wet tears, feel free to just make their facts up. But where does a citizen go for real facts? What percentage of federal taxes do the top five percent really pay? And what percentage of income do they actually earn? We dont know where to go for those facts, and almost surely, you dont know either.
Thats right, folks. In our current benighted discourse, we buy our spin by the tonand our facts by the ounce. Emboldened by this insouciance, conservatives like Horowitz simply make up their factsand across America, citizens dont know that theyre routinely deceived.
Where do we go to get actual facts? Occasionally, such facts do swim across the screen. Consider the Hannity claim we looked at on Monday, in which the top one percent pays 37 percent of the taxes (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/27/03). Was that a real fact, or was that just made up? Hannity made that claim on January 8. On January 20, Robert Samuelsona reputable columnist, not a crackpotdiscussed the tax burden on the top one percent in his column in the Washington Post. Here are the facts of todays system, he wrote:
SAMUELSON: Federal taxes come increasingly from the rich and the upper middle class. In 2001, the richest 1 percent of taxpayers (incomes starting at $373,000 a year) paid 25 percent of all taxes, including income and payroll taxes, according to the Center for Tax Justice, a liberal group. The share paid by the richest 20 percent (incomes starting at $72,000) was 68 percent. In 1979, these figures were 16 percent and 57 percent.
According to Samuelsons figures, the top one percent earn 18 percent of all income, and pay 25 percent of all federal taxes. This suggests that federal taxation is mildly progressive. Of course, it doesnt say how things would look if we added in state and local taxestaxes which tend to be less progressive.
The concentration of taxes mainly reflects a concentration of income. In 2001, the richest 1 percent received 18 percent of income, up from 9 percent in 1979; the share of the richest fifth went from 46 percent to 58 percent.
Samuelson attributed his data to a familiar sourceCitizens for Tax Justice, a group to which journalists often turn for tax facts. In the January 14 New York Times, for example, Edmund Andrews cited CTJ too:
ANDREWS: According to estimates by Citizens for Tax Justice, a liberal research group in Washington, a complete accounting shows that the wealthiest 1 percent of taxpayers earned about 18 percent of all income in 2001 and paid about 25 percent of all federal taxes. Its a little progressive, but were not talking about communism here, said Robert S. McIntyre, director of the group.
Andrews also cited IRS data showing that the top one percent paid 37 percent of all federal income taxes in 2001. (According to the IRS, the top one percent increased their share of total income
to nearly 21 percent in 2000, Andrews said. This is higher than the 18 percent figure he attributed to McIntyre.)
McIntyre is a go-to guy for reporters who want basic facts. But the Tax Maven is cited only infrequently, and CTJs web site is a source of frustration for citizens who want some real data. The site provides occasional statements about tax mattersstatements which do include valuable info. But the site doesnt provide systematic information about who earns how much, and who pays. For example, what percentage of total taxesfederal, state, localare paid by that top one percent? Theres no way to find out on the CTJ site. Indeed, where can a citizen get such information? We dont knowand you dont know either.
Our discourse runs on spin, not on facts. Last week, a New York Times chart seemed to say that tax rates are already flat (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/28/03). But data in the accompanying article seemed to say something quite different. We know of no way to get the real factsand in the absence of actual info, fakers like Horowitz simply make their facts up. And guess what? Despite their open, bald-faced dissembling, theyre given honored spots on Washington Journal, where they lie with no fear of consequence.
By the way, do the top one percent pay 37 percent of the taxes? Hannity was spinning his viewers there too (in fact, his statement was also false). But then, our system runs on spin; most of the time, spin is our productour only product. We need a source of real tax facts. But who in the world will provide it?
LAUGH RIOT: Washingtons Funniest Celebrity? Daschle finished second, Cal Thomas third. More on Iraq reporting in the days to follow.
The Daily update
A SECRET PLAN TO END THE MEDICARE WAR: Doubts Are Emerging as Bush Pushes His Medicare Plan, the headline said. It appeared at the top of this mornings New York Times. Here was the articles opening paragraph, penned by Robert Pear:
PEAR: With President Bush on the road promoting his $400 billion plan to revamp Medicare, members of Congress from both parties expressed doubts about its feasibility today, forcing administration officials to reconsider important elements of the package.
According to Pear, Bush was promoting his Medicare plan. In paragraph 2, Pear continued to discuss Bushs effort:
PEAR: A day after his State of the Union speech, Mr. Bush traveled to Michigan, a battleground state that he lost in the 2000 election, to highlight his proposal. The plan would establish prescription drug benefits under Medicare and encourage the elderly to join private health plans.
In paragraph 3 and 4, Pear kept referring to Bushs proposal.
Bush was promoting his Medicare plan. But theres one slight problem with this reportno such Medicare plan exists. In this mornings Washington Post, Amy Goldstein was a bit more frank. Medicare Plan Short On Details, the headline said. But even that formulation was kind. Here was Goldsteins opening paragraph:
GOLDSTEIN: A day after his State of the Union address, President Bush took his agenda for the year on the road, starting with ambitious and expensive changes to Medicare. But the White House remained conspicuously silent about exactly how it wants to redesign the insurance program for the elderly even as the president traveled to the Midwest to begin selling the idea.
In fact, its clear from Goldsteins piece that, at present, there is no plan. As reporters pretend that a plan exists, the administrations all-too-familiar fakery and buffoonery continue:
GOLDSTEIN: Here in western Michigan, a state that he narrowly lost in the 2000 election and hopes to win next year, Bush stood on an auditorium stage in front of a large backdrop that said, Strengthening Medicare. He devoted three minutes of a 42-minute speech to the topic.
Will seniors have to enroll in HMOs to get prescription drugs? The administration doesnt know. But some facts are out on the table:
GOLDSTEIN: Saying that Medicare has been used as a political football, Bush reiterated his appeal from Tuesday night for Congress to put aside politics and to make sure the Medicare system fulfills its promise to our seniors, including coverage of prescription drugs. Bush said he would spend $400 billion to improve the program and restated his longtime pledge that people in the Medicare system will not be forced to change.
Bush doesnt know what his plan really is. He does know how much it will cost. (Bill Keller, of course, is pretty sure that the plan will involve no sacrifice.)
Its understandable that news orgs may have some trouble reporting on such transparent fakery. But why did the New York Times headline a plan when no such plan really exists?