After being in Office for only 2 years, President Obama has accomplished a great deal, including a tax cut for 95% of The American people. So how come hardly anyone is giving him credit for it?
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — What if a president cut Americans’ income taxes by $116 billion and nobody noticed?It is not a rhetorical question. At Pig Pickin’ and Politickin’, a barbecue-fed rally organized here last week by a Republican women’s club, a half-dozen guests were asked by a reporter what had happened to their taxes since President Obama took office.
“Federal and state have both gone up,” said Bob Paratore, 59, from nearby Charlotte, echoing the comments of others.
After further prodding — including a reminder that a provision of the stimulus bill had cut taxes for 95 percent of working families by changing withholding rates — Mr. Paratore’s memory was jogged.
“You’re right, you’re right,” he said. “I’ll be honest with you: it was so subtle that personally, I didn’t notice it.”
Few people apparently did.
In a troubling sign for Democrats as they head into the midterm elections, their signature tax cut of the past two years, which decreased income taxes by up to $400 a year for individuals and $800 for married couples, has gone largely unnoticed.
In a New York Times/CBS News Poll last month, fewer than one in 10 respondents knew that the Obama administration had lowered taxes for most Americans. Half of those polled said they thought that their taxes had stayed the same, a third thought that their taxes had gone up, and about a tenth said they did not know. As Thom Tillis, a Republican state representative, put it as the dinner wound down here, “This was the tax cut that fell in the woods — nobody heard it.”
Actually, the tax cut was, by design, hard to notice. Faced with evidence that people were more likely to save than spend the tax rebate checks they received during the Bush administration, the Obama administration decided to take a different tack: it arranged for less tax money to be withheld from people’s paychecks.
They reasoned that people would be more likely to spend a small, recurring extra bit of money that they might not even notice, and that the quicker the money was spent, the faster it would cycle through the economy.
Economists are still measuring how stimulative the tax cut was. But the hard-to-notice part has succeeded wildly. In a recent interview, President Obama said that structuring the tax cuts so that a little more money showed up regularly in people’s paychecks “was the right thing to do economically, but politically it meant that nobody knew that they were getting a tax cut.”
“And in fact what ended up happening was six months into it, or nine months into it,” the president said, “people had thought we had raised their taxes instead of cutting their taxes.”
There are plenty of explanations as to why many taxpayers did not feel richer when the cuts kicked in, giving typical families an extra $65 a month. Some people were making less money to begin with, as businesses cut back. Others saw their take-home pay shrink as the amounts deducted for health insurance rose.
And taxpayers in more than 30 states saw their state taxes rise, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
That is what happened here in North Carolina. The Treasury Department estimated that the federal tax cut would put $1.7 billion back in the hands of North Carolina taxpayers this year. Last year, though, North Carolina, facing a large budget shortfall, raised a variety of state taxes by roughly a billion dollars.
“It was a wash,” said Mr. Tillis, the state representative.
The guests at the Pig Pickin’ rally here could rattle off the names of the House speaker and the Senate majority leader with ease, if with disdain, and were up on many of the political controversies of the day. They studied the campaign fliers at their tables, and pocketed the 1.5-ounce jars of strawberry preserves with special labels urging them to vote for Judge Bill Constangy for Superior Court (“Preserving Justice,” the labels read).
Many volunteered that they thought the Bush tax cuts should be extended for all taxpayers, even for the wealthy ones whom Mr. Obama would like to exclude. But few had heard that there had also been Obama tax cuts — which will also expire next year unless extended, but have generated far less public debate.
Bob Deaton, 73, who wore a “Fair Tax” baseball cap, was surprised to hear that there were tax cuts in the $787 billion stimulus bill, which was wildly unpopular with many at the rally even though roughly a third of it was in the form of tax cuts.
“Tax cuts?” he asked. “Where were the tax cuts?”
Ron Julian, 50, a Huntersville town commissioner, said he thought his taxes had gone up under Mr. Obama. And Mr. Paratore, a former Hearst executive, said he might have noticed the tax cuts if his paycheck had jumped more in the weeks before he retired last year: “I couldn’t even tell you what it was, to be honest with you.”
The Obama administration wants to extend the little-noticed tax cut next year. Jason Furman, the deputy director of the National Economic Council, said the administration still believes that changing the withholdings was a more effective form of stimulus than sending out rebate checks would have been.
“In retrospect, we think that judgment was right,” he said. “It’s harder to predict what’s good for politics. Ultimately, the best thing for politics is going to be helping the economy.”
But at least one prominent economist is questioning whether the method really was more effective. Joel B. Slemrod, a professor of economics at the University of Michigan, analyzed consumer surveys after the last rebate checks were sent out in 2008 by the Bush administration, and after this tax cut, called Making Work Pay, went into effect under the Obama administration.
After the 2008 rebates, he found that about a quarter of the households surveyed said they would use the money primarily to increase their spending. After the Obama tax cut took effect, he said, only 13 percent said they would use the money primarily to increase their spending. The Obama administration believes that people did spend the money, and cites analyses calling the cut one of the more effective forms of stimulus.
Mr. Slemrod said it was not unheard of for voters to miss tax cuts. Just a few years after a 1986 overhaul of the tax system made significant cuts to most people’s taxes, he said, a survey asked people what had happened to their taxes. “Most people didn’t answer that they went down,” he said.
Peter Baker contributed reporting from Washington.
Tax cut for 95 percent? The stimulus made it so
President Barack Obama talked a lot about economic recovery during his State of the Union address on Jan. 27, 2010, including the benefits of the economic stimulus bill passed last year.
The stimulus, formally known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, included tax cuts for many Americans, Obama said.
“We cut taxes. We cut taxes for 95 percent of working families. We cut taxes for small businesses,” Obama said. “We cut taxes for first-time homebuyers. We cut taxes for parents trying to care for their children. We cut taxes for 8 million Americans paying for college.”
Democrats applauded, while Republicans were silent for the most part. In one of the unscripted moments of the night, Obama looked at the Republican side of the room, smiled and said, “I thought I’d get some applause on that one.”
Here, we wanted to check Obama’s statement that he cut taxes for 95 percent of working families.
The key word in his statement is “working.” Obama’s claim is based on a tax cut intended to offset payroll taxes. Under the stimulus bill, single workers got $400, and working couples got $800. The Internal Revenue Service issued new guidelines to reduce withholdings for income tax, so many workers saw a small increase in their checks in April 2009.
The tax cut was part of Obama’s campaign promises. During the campaign, Obama said he wanted $500 for each worker and $1,000 for working couples. Since the final number was a bit less than he promised, we rated his promise a Compromise on our Obameter, where we rate Obama’s campaign promises for fulfillment.
During the campaign, the independent Tax Policy Center researched how Obama’s tax proposals would affect workers. It concluded 94.3 percent of workers would receive a tax cut under Obama’s plan based on the tax credit to offset payroll taxes. According to the analysis, the people who wouldn’t get a tax cut are those who make more than $250,000 for couples or $200,000 for a single person. Obama said he intended to raise taxes on those high earners, a promise he reiterated during the State of the Union, and that revenue would offset the stimulus tax cut.
Because the stimulus act did give that broad-based tax cut to workers, we rate Obama’s statement True.
Original Articles appear here
By MICHAEL COOPER
Published: October 18, 2010
by St Petersburg Times “Politifact”