Politics

07.09.12

Dan Amira, May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You

The issue of marginal tax rates, and how everybody and I mean everybody doesn't know how to discuss them, has long been a major peeve of mine. So my heart soared to the outer galaxies today to read a blog post by one Dan Amira on the New York magazine site explaining that every major media outlet gets this wrong every fookin' time. He writes:

New York Times: Obama is "calling for a one-year extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for people making less than $250,000."

Wall Street Journal: "President Barack Obama will propose a one-year extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for families earning less than $250,000 today."

Washington Post: "President Obama on Monday proposed a one-year extension of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for people making less than $250,000 a year."

CNN: "President Barack Obama called Monday for Congress to pass a one-year extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for people earning less than $250,000 a year."

You get the idea. So why are we quoting this very straightforward sentence over and over again?  Because it's flat-out wrong.

Obama is not proposing that families making up to $250,000 a year keep their tax cuts while families making more than that don't. He's proposing that everyfamily keep its tax cuts on their first $250,000 of taxable income (which is not the same as "income" or "earnings," by the way).

That includes families with taxable income of $260,000, $1 million, $5 billion, $3 trillion, or whatever Jay-Z and Beyonce make in a year. Everyone would continue to pay a lower tax rate on their first $250,000 of taxable income under Obama's plan. To report that Obama only wants to maintain tax cuts for families making less than $250,000 is simply false.

Correct! correct, correct, correct, correct! Bravo, Brother Amira. It's you and me against the world.

We tax dollars, not people. Again: We tax dollars, not people. Here are the six marginal tax rates, which you can click on and see for yourself.

As you can see from the above rates if you click through, everyone in America, from you to me to LeBron, pays 10 percent on the first $8,700, 15 percent on the next $26,650 (up to $35,350), and so on and so on. We tax dollars, not people.

Why is this so hard for the media? Well, one reason, which Amira notes, is that Obama himself gets it wrong in the way he talks. Democrats should ALL say, EVERY time with ZERO exceptions, "We want to raise the rate on dollars earned above $250,000." Not on "people making"--that's inaccurate, and it's inaccurate in a way that hurts them, and yet, they say it! Even "dollars earned" isn't technically right because it's actually on taxable income, i.e. after deductions are taken, but at least it is close and gives a much clearer picture of the reality.

It's even more effective, from the liberal point of view, when discussing the taxes one does want to raise. "We propose raising the tax rates only on dollars earned above $250,000 a year." Now, you're not punishing people for doing well. You're just asking for more off the top of their tippety-top earnings. It's clear. It's true. It's...better.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, you reading this? Please say "dollars earned." And media. "Dollars earned." Substitute "dollars earned" for "people making" or "families earning" in the above examples, and it's all still English, and it's right for once. And it will actually make people stop and think for two seconds. I would bet that if you polled Americans on the concept of marginal rates, no more than 6 percent would understand the idea at all. A simple change to a stupid media convention could help change this, but the farkakte Democrats could help change this too.