Click over to any news website today, or flip to any cable channel, and you'll learn that President Obama has announced a new proposal for how to handle the soon-to-expire Bush tax cuts:
- New York Times: Obama is "calling for a one-year extension of the for people making less than $250,000."
- Wall Street Journal: "President Barack Obama will propose a one-year extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for families earning less than $250,000 today."
- Washington Post: "President Obama on Monday proposed a one-year extension of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for people making less than $250,000 a year."
- CNN: "President Barack Obama called Monday for Congress to pass a one-year extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for people earning less than $250,000 a year."
You get the idea. So why are we quoting this very straightforward sentence over and over again? Because it's flat-out wrong.
Obama is not proposing that families making up to $250,000 a year keep their tax cuts while families making more than that don't. He's proposing that every family keep their tax cuts on their first $250,000 of taxable income (which is not the same as "income" or "earnings," by the way).
That includes families with taxable income of $260,000, $1 million, $5 billion, $3 trillion, or whatever Jay-Z and Beyonce make in a year. Everyone would continue to pay a lower tax rate on their first $250,000 of taxable income under Obama's plan. To report that Obama only wants to maintain tax cuts for families making less than $250,000 is simply false.
If you're wondering how literally the entire media could get this story wrong, look no further than Obama himself, who is framing his own tax proposal inaccurately. "I’m calling on Congress to extend the tax cuts for the 98 percent of Americans who make less than $250,000 for another year," he said in an East Room speech earlier this afternoon.
Normally, a president would want to publicize that he's trying to cut taxes for everyone in the country. But Obama actually has an incentive this time to downplay the number of Americans who would benefit from his tax plan. His proposal is, at its heart, a political maneuver meant to force Mitt Romney to defend tax cuts for the wealthy. It's more effective, then, for it to be seen as a cut solely for the middle class. The reality is that Obama's proposal would also keep Warren Buffett's taxes lower, if only a little bit.