Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 12, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

DEBATE SCORECARD CORRECTION....When I posted my debate fact checking scorecard yesterday, I decided ahead of time not to make any changes to it unless they were clearly fact-based. After all, I expected lots of arguments over the subjective importance of one thing vs. another, and I figured it was best to leave my initial impressions alone.

However, a liberal economist wrote today and convinced me that I had gotten one item badly wrong. In the debate, Kerry said:

The president gave the top 1 percent of income-earners in America, got $89 billion last year, more than the 80 percent of people who earn $100,000 or less all put together.

I said:

According to the Tax Policy Center, the top 1% got 24% of the total tax cut in 2004. The bottom 80% got 30% of the tax cut and those under $100K goes 42%. Kerry obviously got his numbers mixed up, but they're substantially wrong either way.

However, it appears that Kerry was using numbers from the Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan agency whose figures are widely respected. If you multiply the change in tax rates from this report with income data from this report, here's the total 2004 tax savings for various income groups:

  • 1st quintile: $4.9 billion

  • 2nd quintile: $15.1 billion

  • 3rd quintile: $21.1 billion

  • 4th quintile: $34.1 billion

  • 5th quintile: $156.2 billion

  • Total tax cut: $231.4 billion

Using the same reports, the top 1% got a tax cut of $77.3 billion, or 33.4% of the total. The bottom 80% (the first four quintiles) got a tax cut of $75.3 billion, or 32.5% of the total. So according to the CBO, Kerry is right: the top 1% got a bigger aggregate tax cut than the bottom 80%.

Kerry's equivalence of "bottom 80%" with "people who earn less than $100,000 per year" is slightly wrong, and the $89 billion figure also seems to be off a bit (or it may be that Kerry's team used a slightly different calculation than I did). But those are just small nitpicks. The core argument was that the top 1% received a bigger tax cut than the bottom 80%, and on that Kerry was both technically and substantively right about what he said.

I've updated the scorecard to reflect this.

Kevin Drum 7:24 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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