Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Sunday, March 21, 2010 9:24 pm

Tea and magic mushrooms

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns!,Journalism — Lex @ 9:24 pm
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Radical liberal socialist Bruce Bartlett — and, by “radical liberal socialist,” I mean, “former official in the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations” — takes to the pages of the radical liberal socialist Web site Forbes.com to examine the beliefs of the Tea Party movement. And what does the Tea Party movement believe? Let’s just say Alice and the White Rabbit might recognize their world, but you and I wouldn’t:

Curious about the factual knowledge these people have regarding the issues they are protesting, my friend David Frum enlisted some interns to interview as many Tea Partyers as possible on a couple of basic questions. They got 57 responses — a pretty good-sized sample from a crowd that numbered between 300 and 500 people. (Survey results are here.) …

Tea Partyers were asked how much the federal government gets in taxes as a percentage of the gross domestic product. According to Congressional Budget Office data, acceptable answers would be 6.4%, which is the percentage for federal income taxes; 12.7%, which would be for both income taxes and Social Security payroll taxes; or 14.8%, which would represent all federal taxes as a share of GDP in 2009.

Not everyone follows these numbers closely, and Tea Partyers may have been thinking of figures from a few years ago, before the recession when taxes were higher. According to the CBO, the highest figure for all federal taxes since 1970 came in the year 2000, when they reached 20.6% of GDP. As we know, after that George W. Bush and Republicans in Congress cut federal taxes; they fell to 18.5% of GDP in 2007, before the recession hit, and 17.5% in 2008.

Tuesday’s Tea Party crowd, however, thought that federal taxes were almost three times as high as they actually are. The average response was 42% of GDP and the median 40%. The highest figure recorded in all of American history was half those figures: 20.9% at the peak of World War II in 1944.

To follow up, Tea Partyers were asked how much they think a typical family making $50,000 per year pays in federal income taxes. The average response was $12,710, the median $10,000. In percentage terms this means a tax burden of between 20% and 25% of income.

Of course, it’s hard to know what any particular individual or family pays in taxes, but according to IRS tax tables, a single person with $50,000 in taxable income last year would owe $8,694 in federal income taxes, and a married couple filing jointly would owe $6,669.

But these numbers are high because to have a taxable income of $50,000, one’s gross income would be higher by at least the personal exemption, which is $3,650, and the standard deduction, which is $5,700 for single people and $11,400 for married couples. Owning a home or having children would reduce one’s tax burden further.

According to calculations by the Joint Committee on Taxation, a congressional committee, tax filers with adjusted gross incomes between $40,000 and $50,000 have an average federal income tax burden of just 1.7%. Those with adjusted gross incomes between $50,000 and $75,000 have an average burden of 4.2%. …

Tea Partyers also seem to have a very distorted view of the direction of federal taxes. They were asked whether they are higher, lower or the same as when Barack Obama was inaugurated last year. More than two-thirds thought that taxes are higher today, and only 4% thought they were lower; the rest said they are the same.

As noted earlier, federal taxes are very considerably lower by every measure since Obama became president. And given the economic circumstances, it’s hard to imagine that a tax increase would have been enacted last year. In fact, 40% of Obama’s stimulus package involved tax cuts. These include the Making Work Pay Credit, which reduces federal taxes for all taxpayers with incomes below $75,000 by between $400 and $800.

According to the JCT, last year’s $787 billion stimulus bill, enacted with no Republican support, reduced federal taxes by almost $100 billion in 2009 and another $222 billion this year. The Tax Policy Center, a private research group, estimates that close to 90% of all taxpayers got a tax cut last year and almost 100% of those in the $50,000 income range. For those making between $40,000 and $50,000, the average tax cut was $472; for those making between $50,000 and $75,000, the tax cut averaged $522. No taxpayer anywhere in the country had his or her taxes increased as a consequence of Obama’s policies.

It’s hard to explain this divergence between perception and reality. Perhaps these people haven’t calculated their tax returns for 2009 yet and simply don’t know what they owe. Or perhaps they just assume that because a Democrat is president that taxes must have gone up, because that’s what Republicans say that Democrats always do. In fact, there hasn’t been a federal tax increase of any significance in this country since 1993.

I wonder if it will concern the mainstream national media at all that they’re paying such attention to a group that, by and large, doesn’t know what in the pluperfect hell it is talking about. I also wonder whether that same media will consider the question of whether their own poor job performance might be contributing to that ignorance.

Actually, no, on second thought, I don’t wonder at all.

UPDATE: They don’t know how to Google or use Thomas.loc.gov, either:

People with ties to Glenn Beck’s 9-12 Project, Tea Party Boise and other conservative causes plan a protest outside Rep. Walt Minnick’s office this weekend, with the claim that the Idaho Democrat co-sponsored one of the health care bills that Congress is considering.

Their assertion is untrue, however; Minnick never sponsored such legislation…

Props to the RNC, which initially flogged this story, for admitting forthrightly that it had been mistaken. You don’t see the RNC do that every day.

(Full disclosure: The writer, Erika Bolstad, is a friend and former co-worker of mine.)

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