Taxes: Down! Right-Wing Hyperbole: Up!

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Just to keep our BOR readers abreast of national trends, USA Today released an internal analysis of federal tax rates over the past six decades. The results? Americans paid their lowest level of taxes in 2009 since Harry Truman's presidency in 1950.

Kind of makes right-wing and Tea Party types' cries of excessive taxation seem a little… excessive. From USA Today, emphases mine:

Federal, state and local taxes – including income, property, sales and other taxes – consumed 9.2% of all personal income in 2009, the lowest rate since 1950, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) reports. That rate is far below the historic average of 12% for the past half-century. The overall tax burden hit bottom in December at 8.8.% of income before rising slightly in the first three months of 2010.

“The idea that taxes are high right now is pretty much nuts,” says Michael Ettlinger, head of economic policy at the liberal Center for American Progress. The real problem is spending, counters Adam Brandon of FreedomWorks, which organizes Tea Party groups. “The money we borrow is going to be paid back through taxation in the future,” he says.

Taxes paid have fallen much faster than income in this recession. Personal income fell 2% last year. Taxes paid dropped 23%. The BEA classifies Social Security taxes as insurance payments and excludes them from the tax calculation.

Why the tax bite has eased:

•Stimulus law. One-third of last year's $862 billion economic stimulus went for tax cuts. Biggest reduction: The Making Work Pay tax credit reduced income taxes $800 for married couples earning up to $150,000.

•Progressive tax rates. Presidents Clinton and Bush pushed through a series of tax changes – credits, lower rates, higher exemptions – that slashed income taxes for poor and middle-class families. A drop in income now can trigger big tax breaks and sharply lower rates, sometimes falling to zero.

•Sales tax. Consumers cut spending sharply in this downturn, thereby paying less in sales taxes.

That second bullet point is key — a more progressive tax structure relieves the burden on the middle class. However, the third bullet point should give those of us in Texas pause — lower sales tax receipts mean a potentially larger budgetary shortfall for our state and local governments, as we don't pay state income tax.

All in all, however, it is deeply disingenuous for conservatives, Republicans, and right-wing loons alike to complain that our taxes are too high. In fact, they're at historic lows. Maybe, then, political rhetoric needs to be less about lowering taxes and more about how we can budget effectively to continue paying for the promise of America. And maybe, just maybe, we can think about ways to raise revenue to keep our obligations and continue to provide the Social Safety net that helps keep America great.  


About Author

Katherine Haenschen

Katherine Haenschen is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas, where she studies political participation on digital media. She previously managed successful candidate, issue, voter registration, and GOTV campaigns in Central Texas. She is also a fan of UCONN women's basketball and breakfast tacos.


  1. GreenApples on

    This misunderstanding
    just might be due to the crap that they are hearing and getting in their mailboxes.  I have in front of me a campaign brochure sent to the entire voting population in the district of John Cuberson of Texas.  It's enough to make your head spin! I would show you but I don't have it scanned.  In Large Bold letters, the Cover page says LARGEST TAX INCREASE IN U.S. HISTORY, (with the American flag in the background)  and inside a lot of bull^%$& (3 pages full) saying how Obama has raised taxes.

    This crap is sent through the mail at our expense. And it calls into question the abuse of Congressional Privilege. I wish someone bigger than me could call him on it.

    • Please go to his web site
      send Culberson a scathing email, detailing your objection.  Call him out on his blatant lie.  I've done the same in the past.  And now Culberson has taken me off of his mailing list.

      In other words John Culberson does not give a rat's derriere about what most of us in his district think.

      His only concern is for his fat cat donors.  But let him know you are out there anyway. Incumbent rage can exist in Texas too and our non existent “Rep” needs to know it.

      • Baby Snooks on

        OMG We Agree on Something…
        In other words John Culberson does not give a rat's derriere about what most of us in his district think.


        He does not give a rat's derriere about what anyone thinks. Mainly out of envy that others can think and he never developed the ability to.  

        • Not quite
          This is not about Culberson's envy b/c of his lack of brain power.

          Mainly out of envy that others can think and he never developed the ability to.  

          Culberson chose not to develop the ability to think b/c he serves fat cats that require blind obedience.  A pimped out tool does not have the luxury of independent thought.

          John Culberson's district tends to bring a ton of federal grant money (the Texas Medical Center, MD Anderson, Rice) that he says he abhors.   And yet he is proud of it at the same time.

          I reside in John Culberson's district and yet he cut me off of his mailing list b/c I don't agree with his policies and I let him know it.

          So much for “representation” in the great state of a Republican run Texas.

  2. TexianPolitico on

    Good point
    Everyone that thinks their taxes are too low can gladly send in more money to the IRS if they wish. Telling the electorate they don't realize how good they have it seldom, if ever, works.  

  3. The Tea Party movement
    is mostly a contrived one. A recent poll reveals that it is merely another wing of the GOP.  Dick Armey and other self serving charlatans played these folks like puppets during the health care debates.  Dick's efforts were obviously not successful.

    Fox Fixed “News” will cover 100 teabaggers on a street corner anywhere while it ignored over 500,000 repeated war protesters during the W. era.  It also failed to report on the tens of thousands of union workers who protested the banks on Wall St. a couple of weeks ago. So much for fair and balanced “news.”

    Where the right is concerned a tax of any kind is viewed as poisonous, horrible and unjust.  But when a disaster strikes, aka the Louisiana coast, Republican governors will be the first in line to beg Washington for a hand out. I guess it never occurred to Republicans that their hand out would not be possible were it not for we taxpayers.

    Nor would they be able to beg and scream for help from FEMA, the Coast Guard and other federal agencies when the Republican governors' states are hit by hurricanes, floods and massive oil leaks.

    It seems to me that the GOP has issues with bi-polar dysfunctional disorder especially where taxes are concerned.

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