Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Flush Yourself to Safety

Amid all the rhetoric spiraling out of Washington and the major news networks, emerge these truths about the so-called “Buffet Rule”:

1) On wages earned, Warren Buffet does indeed pay less in federal income tax than his secretary.
2) In the aggregate sense, however, your average millionaire pays just under twice as much, percentage-of-income-wise, as do those who are firmly and solidly in the middle class.

Who is right – and whom you believe in this mess – says more about your politics than your ability to do math or understand tax law.

President Obama is obviously interested in tapping into the middle-class (and liberal) rage against the so-called fat cats who in some instances, depending on what figures you look at and how hard you squint, appear to pay less in taxes than their middle-class compatriots. Such a stance paints a caricature of the situation, not allowing for the complexities of tax law that make, for many millionaires, a higher tax burden than what even President Obama seems willing to admit.

Are there loopholes that allow some millionaires to pay less in income taxes than middle class wage-earners? Yes there are. But if unbiased entities such as the Congressional Budget Office, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Tax Policy Center are to be believed, what Obama and the media are selling the American public is true for a minority of millionaires, untrue for the vast majority.

It makes as much logical sense to me as does Rush Limbaugh’s claim that there are more National Forest lands in the United States now than there were when Columbus landed in the Americas in 1492. The statement is true in one literal sense: There was absolutely no land at that time designated as National Forest. So it is true, depending, once again, on that squint and what figures you use.

It is demeaning to the public you claim to be serving and intellectually dishonest to state the case for the minority is the case for all. And no matter how much you might blame media spin or the passion of a political moment for such dishonesty, that the claims being made are dishonest to begin with does not change.

As an independent voter who “voted for change” in 2008, I’m disappointed. The intellectual dishonesty is much more appalling to me than any political circus divided along party lines. I’d like to think that anyone earning an income in the United States and benefitting from government services is paying a fair share of tax. It appears that most people are. I don’t know much about the tax loopholes that are benefitting those minority of millionaires, but before I go screaming on about that, I probably should quietly consider whether the child tax credits and lifetime learning credits I’ve legitimately taken over the past several years (eliminating entirely my federal tax burden) are as correct and right and justified as those millionaire loopholes we’ve heard so much yet know so little about. The circus is inevitable. The lies shouldn’t be.

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