Echoing Bush, Hannity and Luntz misrepresented impact of allowing Bush tax cuts to expire
Research ››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN
On Hannity & Colmes, Sean Hannity echoed President Bush's misleading claim during the State of the Union address that "116 million American taxpayers ... would see their taxes rise by an average of $1,800" if the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire, a claim that Frank Luntz further exaggerated. In fact, because the tax cuts are largely skewed toward the wealthiest Americans, the "average of $1,800" figure cited by Bush dramatically overstates the impact of repealing the tax cuts on most Americans.
During the January 28 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, co-host Sean Hannity echoed President Bush's misleading claim during the State of the Union address that "116 million American taxpayers ... would see their taxes rise by an average of $1,800" if the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire, a claim that GOP pollster Frank Luntz further exaggerated. Hannity stated that "the president said 116 million Americans would lose, see their taxes rise an average of $1,800" if the tax cuts expire. Luntz, who was conducting a State of the Union focus group, then asked the participants: "Over 100 million Americans would see their taxes rise $1,800. Doesn't that concern you?" In fact, because the tax cuts are largely skewed toward the wealthiest Americans, the "average of $1,800" figure cited by Bush dramatically overstates the impact of repealing the tax cuts on most Americans, as fact-checks of Bush's speech by The Washington Post and National Public Radio (NPR) documented.
Luntz also suggested that "when the Democrats actually react negatively to making the tax cuts permanent, that's a message for you as to what is happening in the Democratic primary." However, the three leading Democratic presidential candidates have proposed allowing the tax cuts to expire only for those making more than $200,000 (former Sen. John Edwards) or $250,000 (Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama) per year. As Media Matters for America has documented, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's data for 2006 -- the most recent year available -- only 3.4 percent of U.S. households have an income of $200,000 or more. Therefore, while Bush claimed that "116 million American taxpayers" would have their taxes increase if all of the tax cuts expire, only about 3.8 million of the United States' approximately 111.6 million households would see their taxes increase under the Edwards plan, with even fewer seeing an increase under the Obama and Clinton plans.
The Washington Post fact-checked Bush's assertion about the purported impact on allowing the tax cuts to expire in a January 28 report:
Bush makes the potential expiration of his tax cuts sound like a big deal for the average American, but his estimate of the financial impact is skewed because the cuts have disproportionately helped the very richest citizens. That fact boosts the average cost of reinstating the taxes, a circumstance that doesn't reflect what the typical household might experience.
Here's another way of looking at it: the median American household will pay roughly $828 more in taxes in 2011 if the Bush tax cuts expire, according to the Tax Policy Center, a non-ideological think tank venture. The richest 1 percent of American households, in contrast, would have to pay an extra $64,154 a year when the tax cuts expire.
Similarly, The NPR News Blog stated:
The president's use of averages is misleading and masks who actually benefits most from his tax cuts. The Citizens for Tax Justice estimate that the middle 20 percent of Americans will receive 11 percent of the Bush tax cuts between 2001 and 2010, while the top 1 percent will receive 36 percent. That means the middle 20 percent would lose about $540 a year in tax breaks if the Bush tax cuts are not renewed. The top 1 percent would lose an average of $34,000 a year.
From the January 28 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:
LUNTZ: What I'd like to do is show you one other clip that was very impressive here, because there is an extreme dichotomy between Republicans and Democrats. While they all agree on ending wasteful Washington spending and earmarks, when it comes to making the tax cuts permanent, there is a very different reaction. Let's take a look.
BUSH [video clip]: Most Americans think their taxes are high enough. With all the other pressures on their finances, American families should not have to worry about the federal government taking a bigger bite out of their paychecks. There's only one way to eliminate this uncertainty -- make the tax relief permanent.
LUNTZ: The single biggest, different response of everything in the debate. You Republicans or Republican-leaning people here loved it. You Democrats hated it. Why did you hate it?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I just -- I'm just tired of him making promises that he can't keep, so it just kind of, like, turned me off to the whole thing.
LUNTZ: So it didn't matter what he said? He could have said that he's no longer going to wear white underwear, and you would have reacted negatively?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I'm tired of the promises. He's just not doing his job.
LEONARD: The people are listening to what the Democrats are saying, and they're telling us they are going to raise our taxes. And they're afraid of that. They know what happens.
LUNTZ: Sean, you've got a question. Let me just -- when you watch these debates and -- in this case, the State of the Union address -- and when you get that kind dichotomy -- and, again, these are relatively uncommitted people -- it's very surprising. But when the Democrats actually react negatively to making the tax cuts permanent, that's a message for you as to what is happening in the Democratic primary?
HANNITY: That's actually where my question is, Frank, and I am fascinated at the reaction of your focus group. You know I love these focus groups. We learn a lot from them. But the president said this when talking about the tax cuts -- and if you could specifically ask the Democrats in your audience, I would like them to know -- because the president said 116 million Americans would lose, see their taxes rise an average of $1,800, and he did fulfill that promise. Every American did get that tax cut.
LUNTZ: So let me ask you guys a question. Over 100 million Americans would see their taxes rise $1,800. Doesn't that concern you?
UNIDENTIFIED VOICES: Yeah.
LUNTZ: No. Some of you it doesn't.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I don't think the tax cut should have been done in the first place. It harms middle- and lower-class people. It doesn't help them as much as upper income people.
JAMES: I agree, middle and lower class have not been positively affected.
HANNITY: Everyone got a piece of the tax cut, Frank.
LUNTZ: As Sean -- Sean is saying in my ear that everyone got a piece of those tax cuts, and yet you don't think so?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, the Democrats think it was tax cuts for the rich. Republicans think it's tax cuts for everybody. So that's why you see the dichotomy.
LUNTZ: So let's do a vote right here. The American people are watching. Do you want the tax cuts permanent? Who says yes? Who says no?
HANNITY: My hand's up.