Sunday, June 22, 2003


Did President Bush lie about everyone getting tax relief?

In a piece written by David Rosenbaum for the Sunday New York Times Week in Review section, Rosenbaum concludes that President George W. Bush definitely exaggerated -- and some would say he outright lied -- when he said that his 2003 tax reform package would contain financial relief for everyone who pays income taxes.

In fact, Rosenbaum explains, both his own proposal and the bill he eventually signed into law, excluded millions of taxpayers from tax relief.  Mostly low income single taxpayers at that.

Rosenbaum compares this misstatement on taxes with pronouncements made by Bush regarding the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iran which were used as the rationale to invade that nation.

He points out that the hunt for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in Iraq has been fruitless. The tax cut turns out to give no break whatsoever to millions of low-income taxpayers. In the view of some Democrats, President Bush has been lying about these and other matters, the way Lyndon B. Johnson lied about Vietnam, Richard M. Nixon about Watergate and Bill Clinton about his sex life.

For instance, Senator Bob Graham of Florida, the former chairman of the Intelligence Committee and a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, accused Mr. Bush of "a pattern of deception and deceit" on Iraq.

An antiwar organization,, ran a full-page advertisement in The New York Times last week suggesting that "young men and women were sent to die for a lie."

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal research group, said of Mr. Bush's statement that all income tax payers would benefit from his tax cut, "Such claims are not accurate."

In fact, a review of the president's public statements found little that could lead to a conclusion that the president actually lied on either subject. But more pertinent than whether the president told the literal truth is what factors he stressed and which ones he played down.

On the question of taxes, Rosenbaum stressed that Bush made a claim in his State of the Union address that was not true, and he repeated it often afterward. "This tax relief," he declared, "is for everyone who pays income taxes."

In fact, as the Tax Policy Center, a research arm of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, discovered, 8.1 million people who owe taxes would have received no tax cut from the Bush proposal and will get no break from the legislation that was enacted last month. Almost all of them are either single people with no children and no dividends or capital gains who were already in the 10 percent tax bracket, or else those with "head of household" filing status whose dependent is not a child under 17.

But there are more than 100 million income tax payers in the country. So well over 90 percent will get some tax cut. If he had said "almost all," it would have been accurate.

What is more important is that the tax relief most people will receive is quite meager, hardly the impression the president sought to leave when he campaigned around the country for the plan.

Bush kept emphasizing the tax benefits for people with modest incomes, not the more extensive tax relief he wanted for the well heeled. He often had onstage with him a couple with two children and an income of $40,000 or $50,000 whose taxes would be cut by more than $1,000, mostly because of the increase in the child tax credit.

But the indisputable fact is that the bulk of the tax cut will go to the wealthy. A study by Citizens for Tax Justice, a liberal research institute whose calculations have gone unchallenged, found that half of all taxpayers would get a cut of less than $100 a year this year and that by 2005, three-quarters would get less than $100.

On the other hand, almost two-thirds of all the tax savings will go to the wealthiest 10 percent of taxpayers, and the richest 1 percent will get an average tax reduction of nearly $100,000 a year.

When he signed the tax bill into law last month at a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, the president introduced Jenny Tyson of Omaha, the wife of an Air Force sergeant serving in the Pacific. With two children, the Tysons "will keep an extra $1,300 a year of their own money," the president declared.

That was true for that particular family, Rosenbaum admits. It just was not the main point of the new tax law.


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