September 27, 2000 | Commentary on Taxes
Almost every argument made by liberals against tax cuts, it seems, comes down to a familiar charge: It would help the rich. Whether it's being made against a cut in the death tax or the marriage penalty or the income tax, the accusation amounts to "checkmate" in the liberal lexicon.
Too many conservatives swallow the bait. "No, it wouldn't," they defensively reply, explaining how cuts would bring relief to low-income and middle-class taxpayers. And they're partly right. For example, some 25 million married couples-many of them a far cry from being rich-pay an average of $1,400 more in taxes than two singles with similar incomes, and the death tax hits more family farmers and small-business owners than liberals care to admit.
But denying that such cuts would also help those in the upper-income brackets is a mistake. For one thing, it isn't true. Those making higher incomes would benefit, often handsomely so. But they're also paying a heck of a lot more in taxes than anyone else. They deserve a break.
According to the Tax Foundation, a Washington-based tax watchdog group, the top 50 percent of all taxpayers (those making $100,000 and up) pay 95 percent of all taxes pouring into state and federal coffers. That's right-for every tax dollar lining a government purse, 95 cents comes from the vilified "rich." The bottom 50 percent of taxpayers-including many shouting "amen" to the liberals' class-warfare message-kick in a nickel. A tax cut that doesn't somehow help the rich more than lower-income earners is almost impossible to design.
Look at it another way. IRS figures show there were 110,740 returns from taxpayers making $1 million or more in 1996 (the latest year for which data are available). Each paid an average of $874,968 in federal income taxes. By contrast, there were 12.4 million returns from people making between $30,000 and $40,000. They paid an average of $3,400 in taxes. Aren't those who are being gouged the most due some sort of a break?
Basically, the tax system is designed to punish success. Work harder that the next guy, innovate, invest wisely, or get lucky-and the government will put the squeeze on you. And a lot of Americans are getting squeezed.
Take Venus Williams. When the 20-year-old tennis champ got a call from President Clinton congratulating her on her recent win at the U.S. Open, she lobbied for a tax cut. Williams reminded the president that she was the one who had put in the hard work to win the $800,000 purse, and that she deserved to keep more of it. "I'm a good citizen," she said. "Can you lower my taxes, please?"
When liberals like Clinton say "the rich," they want you to think of privileged Old Money families who use "summer" as a verb and have children with "III" or "IV" in their names. But in reality, the rich are primarily middle-class achievers wondering why the government gets to keep so much of the money they earn.
Think about that the next time you hear some politician huffing about "the rich." When you think about it, it's really nothing more than an attack on the American Dream.
Edwin Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute.
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