The Truth About Obama’s Tax Proposal

To hear the media report it, President Obama is proposing a tax increase on wealthy Americans. That’s misleading at best. He’s proposing that everyone receive a continuation of the Bush tax cuts on the first $250,000 of their incomes. Any dollars they earn in excess of $250,000 will be taxed at the old Clinton-era rates.

Get it? Everyone is treated exactly the same. Everyone gets a one-year extension of the Bush tax cut on the first $250,000 of income. No “class warfare.”

Yet regressive Republicans want Americans to believe differently. The editorial writers of the Wall Street Journal say the President wants to extend the Bush tax cuts only “for some taxpayers.” They urge House Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts for “everyone” and thereby put Senate Democrats on the spot by “forcing them to choose between extending rates for everyone and accepting Mr. Obama’s tax increase.”

Pure demagoguery.

Regressives also want Americans to think the President’s proposal would hurt “tens of thousands of job-creating businesses,” as the Journal puts it.

More baloney.

A small business owner earning $251,000 would pay the Bush rate on the first $250,000 and the old Clinton rate on just $1,000.

Congress’s Joint Tax Committee estimates that in 2013 about 940,000 taxpayers would have enough business income to break through the $250,000 ceiling – and, again, they’d pay additional taxes only on dollars earned above $250,000.

All told, fewer than 3 percent of small business owners would even reach the $250,000 threshold.

A third lie is Obama’s proposal will “increase uncertainly and further retard investment and job creation,” as the Journal puts it.

Don’t believe it.

The real reason businesses aren’t creating more jobs is American consumers — whose purchases constitute 70 percent of U.S. economic activity — don’t have the money to buy more, and they can no longer borrow as before. Businesses won’t invest and hire without consumers. Even as executive pay keeps rising, the median wage keeps dropping — largely because businesses keep whacking payrolls.

The only people who’d have to pay substantially more taxes under Obama’s proposal are those earning far in excess of $250,000 — and they aren’t small businesses. They’re the fattest of corpulent felines. Their spending will not be affected if their official tax rate rises from the Bush 35 percent to the Bill Clinton 39.6 percent.

In fact, most of these people’s income is unearned — capital gains and dividends that are now taxed at only 15 percent. If the Bush tax cuts expire on schedule, the capital gains rate would return to the same 20 percent it was under Bill Clinton (the Affordable Care Act would add a 3.8 percent surcharge).

Funny, I don’t remember the economy suffering under Bill Clinton’s taxes. I was in Clinton’s cabinet, so perhaps my memory is self-serving. But I seem to recall that the economy generated 22 million net new jobs during those years, unemployment fell dramatically, almost everyone’s income grew, poverty dropped, and the economy soared. In fact, it was the strongest and best economy we’ve had in anyone’s memory.

In sum: Don’t fall for these big lies — Obama wants to extend the Bush tax cut “only for some people,” small businesses will be badly hit, businesses won’t hire because of uncertainty this proposal would create, or the Clinton-era tax levels crippled the economy,

A ton of corporate and billionaire money is behind these lies and others like them, as well as formidable mouthpieces of the regressive right such as Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal editorial page.

The truth is already a casualty of this election year. That’s why it’s so important for you to spread it.

About Robert Reich 547 Articles

Robert Reich is the nation's 22nd Secretary of Labor and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

He has served as labor secretary in the Clinton administration, as an assistant to the solicitor general in the Ford administration and as head of the Federal Trade Commission's policy planning staff during the Carter administration.

He has written eleven books, including The Work of Nations, which has been translated into 22 languages; the best-sellers The Future of Success and Locked in the Cabinet, and his most recent book, Supercapitalism. His articles have appeared in the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. Mr. Reich is co-founding editor of The American Prospect magazine. His weekly commentaries on public radio’s "Marketplace" are heard by nearly five million people.

In 2003, Mr. Reich was awarded the prestigious Vaclev Havel Foundation Prize, by the former Czech president, for his pioneering work in economic and social thought. In 2005, his play, Public Exposure, broke box office records at its world premiere on Cape Cod.

Mr. Reich has been a member of the faculties of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and of Brandeis University. He received his B.A. from Dartmouth College, his M.A. from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and his J.D. from Yale Law School.

Visit: Robert Reich

5 Comments on The Truth About Obama’s Tax Proposal

  1. Can’t image a more dishonset way to present materials. I guess the air is not clear down there. Obama is a class warrior in much more than rates. He insults successful americans at every turn. Tax reductions under Bush were much larger on a percentage basis for lower income than hgher income.

    Regardless it is all a phony ruse by short economists. The reality is that the House has to originate Tax bills. The voters took that away from the democrats in 2010 so all this is simply a ruse for publicilty sakes.

    • In what ways has Obama insulted successful Ameicans? Please provide some evidence.

      And what are you trying to accomplish by insulting short people? In what ways does that make you feel better or advance your argument?

  2. The phony pundits and politicians screaming class warfare are, once again trying to get the electorate to vote against their own interests through a well funded propaganda campaign.
    Governmental austerity measures simply never have and never will produce economic growth. Whether you look at the current economic woes through the filters of sociology or mathematics, any honest analysis will bear this out.

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