Arkansas Senator John Boozman appeared yesterday on KUAF’s Ozarks At Large show discussing taxes and the budget with Talk Business producer Roby Brock (the Boozman segment starts around 7:45). At one point he declares that he would reject any tax increase on the rich even if every dollar in new taxes were “offset” by 10 dollars in spending cuts. Nothing surprising there. Boozman also claims that the tax burden on US businesses is “second only to Japan” in the world (not true but Boozman does mention the issue of tax loopholes), that “the majority” (50-60%) of those filing in the highest federal tax bracket are small business owners (false), and that US federal spending “historically” has been around 19% of GDP (Reagan spent between 21.2% and 23.5%).
By far the most brazen distortion out of the Senator’s mouth comes in response to a question about taxing billionaires, at 10:15 in the podcast:
“51 percent of the public don’t pay any federal taxes right now.”
This of course is not true. Boozman meant to say that half the public don’t pay federal income taxes. This would still be highly misleading. The federal income tax is by design a progressive tax which mostly falls on earners of mid and high incomes, based on the principle that everybody should contribute according to their means. But all working people in America pay significant amounts in federal payroll taxes (which fund Social Security and Medicare), federal gas taxes (which fund interstate highway construction and maintenance), and others including state and local sales and income taxes. Most of these taxes disproportionately burden low income workers. For example, incomes above about $106,800 are exempt from payroll taxes! As a result, as documented in an earlier post, the US tax system taken as a whole is not progressive at all: the rich pay about the same overall tax rate as the poor.
Any statement about people not paying federal income taxes is deliberately misleading. Worse, Boozman actually claimed that half the public don’t pay any federal taxes, which is a lie and an insult to all the working Americans paying their share of taxes despite having to make do with declining incomes in a terrible economy. In addition, Boozman has the chutzpah to make that false claim in response to a question about whether billionaires should pay their fair share in taxes, claiming that “there’s not much money there”. Apparently, in Boozman’s universe, it is easier to balance the budget by taking the money from child nutrition programs (such as WIC – Women Infants and Children) than from the corporate elite swimming in money.
The vast majority of Americans and even a majority of Republicans wish, according to numerous polls, that the rich should contribute significantly more to balance the federal budget. Boozman’s congressional colleague Steve Womack, representing the most Republican-leaning House district in Arkansas, recently admitted: “I have had phone calls from constituents all across the Third District suggesting we raise taxes.” Top income and capital gains tax rates are at their lowest since World War II, while income and wealth are now more concentrated at the very top than at any point in 80 years. Americans care deeply about fairness. Boozman, Womack and other Washington insiders who take their marching orders from the rich, rather than listening to their constituents, can only resort to lies and distortions in an attempt to justify a deeply unjust status quo.
Roby Brock didn’t challenge Boozman on any of his dubious claims – he just treated them as if they were factual. Unfortunately this is standard fare in our media environment. There is hardly a radio host in the state of Arkansas who would have reacted differently – the idea of journalism as a means of holding elected officials accountable, of speaking truth to power, must seem ridiculously old-fashioned to today’s media professionals. Nothing is more indicative of this situation than the fact that we have to turn to a comedy show merely to get accurate information about fiscal matters. The clips below are among the most informative, as well as entertaining, to have been seen by a mass audience. Enjoy.
The World of Class Warfare – with Jon Stewart