John Boehner and Republicans are driving home the phrase “largest tax increase in history” to describe President Obama’s offer to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff. It fires up that base listening to Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, and can frighten at least one or two undecided citizens worried about their taxes. President Obama counters by repeating ad nauseam that he will only increase taxes on income above than $400,000, which seems to be blunting Republican efforts to keep Americans from believing that “largest” means the tax increase will apply to them.
But the M.O. of political discourse is to talk past each other. “Largest tax increase”/”making the wealthy pay a little more.” An effective strategy, but one that obscures why the Republican buzz is weak sauce. If Americans aren’t armed with the facts about these empty phrases, they won’t be able to call them out when they hear them.
What’s wrong with the “largest tax increase in history” line? Well, first of all it’s designed to suggest that Obama’s plan will levy the highest taxes in history. But it won’t. In fact, it doesn’t even require much mental exertion to dispose of this claim. If the planned tax increase just brings tax rates back closely in line with the rates in place at the end of the Clinton administration, but are limited to higher incomes, it’s obviously a lower tax burden than existed before. And definitely a lower burden than before the Reagan-era tax cutting bonanza.
Second of all, it’s just completely untrue. The report Republicans use to support this conclusion even recognizes that the largest tax increase, in modern times, was actually Reagan’s 1982 tax increase. Mind blown. If the planned Obama tax increase goes through exactly as proposed and earns exactly the amount expected — a faulty assumption based on history — it will come in around a .8% increase, on par with the Reagan tax increase. I wonder if Republicans are ready to say, “biggest tax increase since Reagan?”
In any event, let’s all resolve to stop letting this stuff slide without a response. Make them back up their nonsense.