Forbes: Tea partiers confused, taxes ‘lower by every measure’ under Obama

Bruce Bartlett, a fiscal conservative and columnist for Forbes who worked in the George W Bush and Reagan administrations is shocked by what he sees happening on the right these days. He became a conservative, he says, because he saw liberalism as driven by lofty unachievable or unreal motives whereas conservativism he believed was pegged primarily to concern with consequences and so based on cold hard reality. He reports that the Tea Parties have turned the world around. Tea Partiers yelling about taxes are delusional, he writes. They know nothing about taxes.

Bartlett was executive director of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress and Deputy Assistant Secretary for economic policy at the U.S. Treasury Department. In March he wrote: “Federal taxes are very considerably lower by every measure since Obama became president…. and last year’s stimulus bill, enacted with no Republican support, reduced federal taxes by almost $100 billion in 2009 and another $222 billion this year.”

Bartlett’s column, which reportedly drew a lot of complaints on the right, is a gem worth quoting at length.

[N]o matter how one slices the data, the tea party crowd appear to believe that federal taxes are very considerably higher than they actually are, whether referring to total taxes as a share of GDP or in terms of the taxes paid by a typical family.

Tea party goers also seem to have a very distorted view of the direction of federal taxes. They were asked whether they are higher, lower or the same as when Barack Obama was inaugurated last year. More than two-thirds thought that taxes are higher today and only 4% thought they were lower; the rest said they are the same.

As noted earlier, federal taxes are very considerably lower by every measure since Obama became president. And given the economic circumstances, it’s hard to imagine that a tax increase would have been enacted last year. In fact, 40% of Obama’s stimulus package involved tax cuts. These include the Making Work Pay Credit, which reduces federal taxes for all taxpayers with incomes below $75,000 by between $400 and $800.

According to the JCT, last year’s $787 billion stimulus bill, enacted with no Republican support, reduced federal taxes by almost $100 billion in 2009 and another $222 billion this year. The Tax Policy Center, a private research group, estimates that close to 90% of all taxpayers got a tax cut last year and almost 100% of those in the $50,000 income range. For those making between $40,000 and $50,000, the average tax cut was $472; for those making between $50,000 and $75,000, the tax cut averaged $522. No taxpayer anywhere in the country had his or her taxes increased as a consequence of Obama’s policies.

It’s hard to explain this divergence between perception and reality. Perhaps these people haven’t calculated their tax returns for 2009 yet and simply don’t know what they owe. Or perhaps they just assume that because a Democrat is president that taxes must have gone up, because that’s what Republicans say that Democrats always do. In fact, there hasn’t been a federal tax increase of any significance in this country since 1993.

That was from his column. He added this introduction after readers complained about it, a kind of “this is where I’m coming from” for the people who believed he was out to smear the Tea Party.

One of the reasons I became a conservative way back when is because conservatives lived in a world where one’s actions are defined by their consequences, not one’s motives. Conservatives also prided themselves on being reality-based and fact-based in their analyses, while liberals often seemed to live in a dream world disconnected from history, institutions and ideology, among other things.

Today, however, conservatives have largely adopted the liberal operating assumption and now also define themselves by the righteousness of their motives. This fact became very obvious to me this week when I examined the knowledge that tea party demonstrators on Capitol Hill had on the subject of taxation. As I recount in my column below, most of those in the crowd grossly overestimated the level and burden of federal taxes, thinking that they are many times higher than they actually are.

New polling suggests most Americans think the amount of taxes they pay is fair. They’re concerned about jobs.

A new New York Times/CBS News poll reports that 62 percent of Americans think the amount of income tax they paid this year was fair. Less than 30 percent think the amount they are paying is unfair. Even among the Tea Party, more than half think they paid a fair amount of taxes. It’s the high active members who are on the non-reality fringe.

Yet while some say the Tea Party stands for “Taxed Enough Already,” most Tea Party supporters – 52 percent – say their taxes are fair, the poll shows. Just under one in five Americans say they support the Tea Party movement.

However, those most active in the Tea Party are less satisfied with the amount of income taxes they will pay. Fifty-five percent of Tea Party activists – those who have attended a rally or donated money – (about 4 percent of Americans overall) say their income taxes are unfair.

Hat tip to John Walker at FDL.

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