The A.P. Fact Checks The “Buffett Rule” And Finds Its Premise Flawed
As a supplement to my post from yesterday, the Associated Press is out with some fact checking on the premise of the so-called “Buffett Rule,” and found no support for the idea that secretaries are paying a higher tax rate than the mega-rich bosses:
In his White House address Monday, Obama called on Congress to increase taxes by $1.5 trillion as part of a 10-year deficit reduction package totaling more than $3 trillion. He proposed that Congress overhaul the tax code and impose what he called the “Buffett rule,” named for billionaire investor Warren Buffett.
“Warren Buffett’s secretary shouldn’t pay a higher tax rate than Warren Buffett. There is no justification for it,” Obama said. “It is wrong that in the United States of America, a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker who earns $50,000 should pay higher tax rates than somebody pulling in $50 million.”
Buffett wrote in a recent piece for The New York Times that the tax rate he paid last year was lower than that paid by any of the other 20 people in his office.
This year, households making more than $1 million will pay an average of 29.1 percent of their income in federal taxes, including income taxes and payroll taxes, according to the Tax Policy Center, a Washington think tank.
Households making between $50,000 and $75,000 will pay 15 percent of their income in federal taxes.
Lower-income households will pay less. For example, households making between $40,000 and $50,000 will pay an average of 12.5 percent of their income in federal taxes. Households making between $20,000 and $30,000 will pay 5.7 percent.
The latest IRS figures are a few years older — and limited to federal income taxes — but show much the same thing. In 2009, taxpayers who made $1 million or more paid on average 24.4 percent of their income in federal income taxes, according to the IRS.
Those making $100,000 to $125,000 paid on average 9.9 percent in federal income taxes. Those making $50,000 to $60,000 paid an average of 6.3 percent.
Obama’s claim hinges on the fact that, for high-income families and individuals, investment income is often taxed at a lower rate than wages. The top tax rate for dividends and capital gains is 15 percent. The top marginal tax rate for wages is 35 percent, though that is reserved for taxable income above $379,150
The data tell a different story. On average, the wealthiest people in America pay a lot more taxes than the middle class or the poor, according to private and government data. They pay at a higher rate, and as a group, they contribute a much larger share of the overall taxes collected by the federal government.
There may be individual millionaires who pay taxes at rates lower than middle-income workers. In 2009, 1,470 households filed tax returns with incomes above $1 million yet paid no federal income tax, according to the Internal Revenue Service. That, however, was less than 1 percent of the nearly 237,000 returns with incomes above $1 million.
So, whether you’re talking tax rates, aggregate payments, or share of total taxes paid, the “rich” pay more than the middle class or the poor, which is how it works under a progressive income tax. Might there be an anecdotal exception out there? Possibly, but in a nation of 300,000,000 people, there are always going to be exceptions to the rule, that doesn’t mean it makes sense to either assume their are representative of the population as a whole, or make policy based on their unique situations. It would also help if the President and Buffettt had gotten their facts correct before pontificating. But, then, what fun would that be?