The Blog

Tax Day: Our Progressive Tax Code — and Obama's Push to Deny the Facts

3:16 PM, Apr 18, 2011 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Tax Day 2011 comes in the middle of President Obama’s push for raising taxes to tackle deficit spending. The president’s budget calls for raising both taxes and deficits. But last week, Obama said that we need to reduce deficits, and he announced his intention, as he put it, “to reduce spending in the tax code,” adding that he wants “to cut about $1 trillion from the tax code.” In case you’re wondering, “spending in the tax code” is the president’s new way of describing money that private citizens earn and are allowed to keep. And reducing “spending in the tax code” is his new way of saying that we need a tax hike. 

Obama thinking

Obama also recently accused Paul Ryan, whose budget passed in the House on Friday, of wanting to provide “tax cuts to every millionaire and billionaire in our society.” In fact, Ryan’s budget doesn’t call for tax cuts, with one exception: It encourages “economic growth and job creation by lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 percent, which is the highest in the developed world, to a much more competitive 25 percent.” Ryan also calls for simplifying the tax code, but not for cutting taxes. 

Ryan’s budget would, however, stop all of Obama’s planned tax hikes. As Obama’s budget conveys, he would raise taxes through Obamacare. He would raise taxes on the “rich” by rescinding current tax rates. Amazingly, he would even raise taxes on wealthier people’s charitable giving, as apparently the government doesn’t like to have any competition in caring for the poor or in promoting the good of society. 

In his speech last Wednesday criticizing Ryan’s plan, Obama also claimed that “the tax burden on the wealthy is at its lowest level in half a century,” and therefore the wealthy “can afford to pay a little more.” One might ask why Obama thinks that other people’s money is his to take and spend elsewhere — and what such a notion would mean for liberty — but here I’ll stick with challenging his empirical claims. In fact, the tax burden on the wealthy is nowhere near its lowest level in half a century. Moreover, the wealthy are already paying not just “a little more,” but a whole lot more. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am not among the wealthy.)   

According to the Congressional Budget Office (the source for each chart below), here is the total effective federal tax rate that average households in each of the five quintiles pay — in other words, this is the percentage of people’s income that they really pay in taxes, after all of the deductions have been figured in (the stats are through 2007, the last year for which the CBO has thus far published this information):

Contrary to Obama’s claim, the percentage of federal taxes paid by the top 1 percent — and by the top quintile as a whole — has not fallen over time, but has risen. In 1983, the total effective federal tax rate for Americans was 20.4 percent. In 2007, it was also 20.4 percent, belying Obama’s notion that we have a revenue problem and need a tax hike.  (What we need is to cut spending and get the economy moving.) But, while the overall rate didn’t change, not everybody’s tax rate stayed the same. The top quintile’s tax rate went up, while everyone else’s went down.  Meanwhile, the bottom quintile’s tax rate was cut by more than half: 

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 19 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers