CBS & NBC Paint Tax Cuts Through Liberal Prism of Higher Dollar Savings for Rich

CBS and NBC on Wednesday night painted the tax cut extensions passed by the House through a liberal prism, relaying liberal spin meant to portray the cuts as unfair by citing the dollar amounts of expected cuts for the rich versus those earning lower incomes, without any regard for how an incredible 41 percent pay no income tax and so can't get a tax cut while the wealthier pay huge dollar amounts and so even a small percentage reduction represents a big dollar number. CBS's Sharyl Attkisson put on screen, without any attribution, how “for incomes of $50,000 or less, you'll average no more than $46 in savings. Up to $100,000, average is no more than 400 bucks saved. $100,000 to a million saves anywhere from about $1,300 to a little more than $5,500. Over a million, your savings will average nearly $42,000 a year.” After Attkisson, anchor Bob Schieffer set up a piece from Anthony Mason, on how the national debt will reach $10 trillion by the end of the Bush presidency and the National Debt clock in Manhattan is running out of space, by declaring that “critics...remind us that any tax cut is just going to drive the national debt higher."

On the NBC Nightly News, Chip Reid recounted how Republicans claimed tax cuts have helped the economy before he picked up the left-wing numbers without offering any context about the dollar amounts of the cuts compared to the rate paid at various income levels, but at least he identified the source as “liberal.” Reid highlighted how “Democratic critics say the overall bill is heavily tilted in favor of the very wealthy" and passed along how “according to the liberal-leaning Tax Policy Center, those earning more than $1 million a year would save an average of about $42,000 a year. But families earning between $50,000 and $75,000 would save only $110 a year. And the savings are even smaller for those making between $40,000 and $50,000." (Transcripts and tax burden facts follow)

Of course, since outside of a small adjustment to the Alternative Minimum Tax, what the House passed was a two-year extension of the current tax rates, the tax cut numbers cited by CBS and NBC are really the amounts people would otherwise have to pay in a tax hike.

Attkisson's numbers, like Reid's, came from the joint Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center and were lifted from a table on the front page of Wednesday's Washington Post, as noted in Tim Graham's NewsBusters item. (ABC's World News Tonight limited coverage of the tax vote to a couple of sentences from anchor Elizabeth Vargas.)

Amazingly, fewer than six in ten Americans actually pays any income tax. As Scott Hodge recounted in a March 30 Tax Foundation report:
“During 2006, Tax Foundation economists estimate that roughly 43.4 million tax returns, representing 91 million individuals, will face a zero or negative tax liability. That's out of a total of 136 million federal tax returns that will be filed. Adding to this figure the 15 million households and individuals who file no tax return at all, roughly 121 million Americans -- or 41 percent of the U.S. population -- will be completely outside the federal income tax system in 2006. This total includes those who pay no tax, and those who pay some tax upfront and are later refunded the full amount of the tax paid or more....

“The number of tax returns with zero or negative tax liability has risen steadily over the past decade. However, it accelerated sharply between 2000 and 2004 due to the effects of tax changes during President Bush's first term of office.”
In an October Tax Foundation report, William Ahern and Gerald Prante looked at the latest numbers from the IRS, from the 2003 tax year, and observed the greater burden on the wealthier: “The top-earning 25 percent of taxpayers (AGI over $57,343) earned 64.9 percent of nation's income, but they paid more than four out of every five dollars collected by the federal income tax (83.9 percent).”

Indeed, the bottom 50 percent, those earning below $29,000, represented 14 percent of all reported income but paid a piddling 3.46 percent of all income taxes collected. Those making more than $95,000 earned 42 percent of the income, yet paid 64 percent of all taxes collected and those earning more than $295,000 paid an average 24.3 percent tax rate, eight times the minimal 2.95 percent rate paid by those making under $29,000. We have a Marxist tax system.

Transcripts of the May 10 CBS and NBC stories, as corrected against the closed-captioning by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth:

CBS Evening News. Bob Schieffer led:
"Good evening. Gas prices are high, the war in Iraq won't go away, so it is no wonder the Republican-controlled Congress has been looking for something it can brag on as the fall election approaches. And today it found one -- that old favorite, tax cuts. Or, to be more specific, an extension of some of the President's previous tax cuts which were due to expire. We go first to Sharyl Attkisson on Capitol Hill. Sharyl?"

Sharyl Attkisson began from Capitol Hill:

"Bob, well, with the Congress on the verge of handing the President a major victory, the House has now passed the tax cuts. The Senate is expected to follow suit. It's $70 billion worth of cuts over five years, and today Republicans were crowing."

Rep. David Dreier (R-CA), on the House floor: "I was born to cut taxes, and I'm proud of the fact that I was born to cut taxes."

Attkisson: "What's the bottom line? The more taxes you pay, the more you save. The Morrises, a Washington couple with two small children, earn around $100,000 a year. They'll save about as thousand bucks."

Mr. Morris: "It'll be nice, but I don't even know if we'll notice it. I guess most people who pay taxes would benefit a little bit."

Attkisson, over on screen table: "Some more than others. For incomes of $50,000 or less, you'll average no more than $46 in savings. Up to $100,000, average is no more than 400 bucks saved. $100,000 to a million saves anywhere from about $1,300 to a little more than $5,500. Over a million, your savings will average nearly $42,000 a year. It's all but a done deal, even though not everyone supports it."

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), on the House floor: "There is nothing in what we will do today that is useful for anybody who is at the middle class or below."

Attkisson: "Democrat Max Baucus helped craft the tax cut package, but says some crucial features got axed at the last minute. Not in the plan, the ability to deduct state and local sales tax, the college tuition tax deduction, deductions for teachers who spend their own money on school supplies, and tax credits for businesses that hire welfare-to-work employees. Are tax cuts and is tax relief in general very popular with most Americans?"

Senator Max Baucus (D-MT): "Americans like tax cuts, but Americans, more than that, want to do what's right and want us and Congress to do what we think is right for the country."

Attkisson: "The tax breaks could pass the Senate as early as tomorrow and be on the President's desk for signing by week's end."


NBC Nightly News. Anchor Brian Williams announced:

"Now to Capitol Hill and a bill to extend tax cuts for investors and create a temporary fix for the alternative minimum tax. Republicans say the tax cuts are helping the economy, but Democrats argue most of the benefits go to the wealthiest Americans. Joining us tonight from Capitol Hill, NBC's Chip Reid. Chip, good evening."

Chip Reid began from Capitol Hill:
"Well, good evening, Brian. Late today a sharply divided House of Representatives passed that tax cut bill by a vote of 244 to 185. With much of their agenda mired in gridlock, House Republicans found reason to celebrate today. After reaching agreement on tax cuts of nearly $70 billion requested by President Bush."

Rep. David Dreier (R-CA), at outdoor celebration: "We are Republicans, and by virtue of being Republicans, we were born to cut taxes."

Reid: "The bill would extend for another two years reduced tax rates of 15 percent on stock dividends and capital gains. Supporters say those tax breaks for investors have played a major role in the nation's economic recovery."

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), on the House floor: "Unemployment is at 4.7 percent. These cuts have spurred spectacular economic growth."

Reid: "The bill would also protect millions of taxpayers from the alternative minimum tax for one year. That tax was created more than three decades ago to make sure the super-wealthy paid their fair share, but now threatens to ensnare the middle and upper middle class, especially families with children in states with high taxes. But Democratic critics say the overall bill is heavily tilted in favor of the very wealthy."

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), on the House floor: "And tonight rivers of champagne will flow in corporate boardrooms across America."

Reid, over an on-screen graphic with matching numbers: "According to the liberal-leaning Tax Policy Center, those earning more than $1 million a year would save an average of about $42,000 a year. But families earning between $50,000 and $75,000 would save only $110 a year. And the savings are even smaller for those making between $40,000 and $50,000."

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), on the House floor: "Their average tax saving under this particular measure would be $46. That amounts to just a little bit more than a tank of gas of you ain't driving an SUV."

Reid: "And some Democrats say they opposed it because it adds about $70 billion to the deficit. But now that it's passed the House, it goes to the Senate. Republicans in the Senate say they have the votes to pass it. If they're right, it will then go to the President for his signature."
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center