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October 5, 2012

Joe Biden and the Buried Middle Class

By

“How can they justify raising taxes on the middle class that’s been buried for four years,” asked Vice President Joe Biden before a North Carolina audience. How indeed, Joe?

The middle class has been buried for four years under President Obama’s mismanagement of the economy. Of course, everyone knows the unemployment rate remains near 8 percent and that millions of Americans can’t find work as the economy stumbles along. Try as they might, Obama and Biden cannot run from these facts or their large share of the responsibility. And even the administration, after assuming the enactment of all its policies, doesn’t believe the nation will return to full employment for six more years.

Perhaps the more damning story, however, is that even those with jobs have seen a substantial decline in their standard of living.  According to Bureau of Labor Statistics measures, the average hourly earnings of production and non-supervisory workers, after adjusting for inflation, has fallen to $8.71 from $8.92 since Obama took office.

In case anyone wonders, under George W. Bush average hourly earnings rose from $8.30 to $8.92. If Bush’s policies were as bad as Obama says they were, what does that make Obama’s policies, other than disastrous?

With so much attention on the economic facts, the important policy question the vice president raised went largely unnoticed: “How can they justify raising taxes on the middle class”? One wonders if the vice president imagined he was looking in a mirror when he asked this question, because it is the stated policy of the Obama administration to enact a massive tax hike on the middle class in 2013. The policy? Allow the payroll-tax-rate reduction enacted two years ago to expire at the end of 2012. That’s a $1,000 tax hike for a worker making $50,000.

Washington policymakers may dispute about whether this two-year-old policy is still properly a temporary policy. Back in the real world of families and tight budgets, allowing the payroll tax cut to expire is a big tax hike.

It’s the Obama-Biden policy that Joe Biden is inadvertently criticizing. In aggregate dollar terms, the looming payroll-tax hike is more than twice as large as the soaking Obama and Biden want to give small businesses, investors, and higher-income families.

The Veep is right to be mad. He is right to be incredulous. Maybe now he’ll do something about it besides speechifying in support of the very consequences and policies he is criticizing.

 — J. D. Foster is the Norman B. Ture Senior Fellow in the Economics of Fiscal Policy at The Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C.

First appeared in National Review Online's The Corner.

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