Tax day is Tuesday this year, so millions of Americans will spend this weekend poring over their records, filling out their returns and writing checks payable to the U.S. Treasury. Last year, the federal government took in a record $4.9 trillion in revenue, more than triple the $1.58 trillion the government collected just 25 years earlier (1997). (Graphic from the Congressional Budget Office.)
That’s an average increase of more than eight percent a year, far more than the rate of inflation (which has averaged 2.4% annually over the past 25 years) plus the increase in the U.S. population (roughly 0.7% annually). The total of all economic activity in the United States per year (GDP) is currently $26.1 trillion, which means the federal government now claims nearly one-fifth (19.6%) of all dollars for itself, a much higher rate than the long-term average of 16.5 percent.
Yet, it’s still not enough money to fulfill all the promises dreamed up by politicians looking for votes. The federal budget hasn’t been balanced since 2001; decades of deficit spending has led to a cumulative national debt of more than $31 trillion.
Yet instead of holding politicians accountable for their impossible promises and reckless stewardship of the nation’s finances, the media lobby for more punishing taxes to be imposed on the public. This has been true during both Democratic and Republican administrations, wartime and peacetime, and in boom times and busts.
The media don’t have the power to raise taxes, but they do have the ability to steer the national conversation toward the solutions they prefer. And instead of making over-spending an issue, the news media have relentlessly pushed for even more of the nation’s wealth to be handed over to the federal government to spend:
■ “I think that when you have the kind of problems that are being created for the future, that you just simply have to raise taxes. Period.”
— CBS News White House correspondent Lesley Stahl on Howard Cosell’s Speaking of Everything, April 10, 1988.
■ “If we don’t find some way to raise new revenues, that means taxes, we’re going to continue this self-deception, we’re going to continue to add to the national deficit, we’re going to continue to cause this country to head toward an economic abyss.”
— ABC’s Sam Donaldson on This Week, September 24, 1989.
■ “The overall tax burden for Americans, local, state and federal, is actually quite low....The truth is that the United States needs higher taxes.”
— Former NBC anchor John Chancellor in his NBC Nightly News commentary, April 17, 1990.
■ “What Congress should do, of course, is raise taxes. It obviously won’t, though, so budget-balancers are left with no choice but to shrink many services my neighbors and I have come to rely on.”
— Former NBC News President Michael Gartner, January 17, 1995 USA Today column.
■ “If Bush is a serious war President he would increase taxes. This is a time for sacrifices. This is a real war and we need money to pay for it.”
— Newsweek Assistant Managing Editor Evan Thomas on the February 8, 2003 Inside Washington.
■ “We ought to be increasing the taxes to pay off the deficit, rather than let that thing build up to the point where our grandchildren’s grandchildren are going to be paying for our period of time and our years at the helm.”
— Former CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite on CNN’s NewsNight with Aaron Brown, June 18, 2003.
■ “I think in the end this President [George W. Bush] will raise taxes before his term is out, just like Ronald Reagan raised taxes after he enacted those enormous tax cuts at the beginning of his program. The government has just got to find some money to finance these programs.”
— Incoming CBS Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer on CBS’s Early Show, February 8, 2005.
■ “No one will talk about taxes. They are terrified. Somehow the religion, the anti-tax religion has gotten so bad that if you — if anybody says, ‘We’re just going to have to do this,’ I mean, it’s as if, you know, you killed a baby or something.”
— CBS 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, October 18, 2010.
■ “You’re being pretty intransigent. You won’t countenance any tax increases....Isn’t it time you guys took one for the team, the team being America?”
— CNN’s Piers Morgan to Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman, July 25, 2011.
■ “The [no tax increases] pledge has helped to wreck the United States. It is about the worst kind of public policy that you can imagine, for the reasons we have just heard....It’s terribly destructive.”
— The Daily Beast’s Jonathan Alter on MSNBC’s The Last Word, August 12, 2015.
■ “Finding a way to raise taxes may well be the central political problem facing the United States."
— New York Times chief economics writer David Leonhardt, April 13, 2011.
■ “The good news is, you are living in a country with a very low tax burden. The bad news is, because of that low tax burden, you are living in a country where good, deserving people who need government’s help continue to suffer.”
— MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell on The Last Word, April 9, 2013.
■ “Without the IRS, or something like it, we wouldn’t have a government. In fact, it’s the cornerstone upon which the entire edifice of the federal government is built....Conservatives recognize that one of the only things standing between us and a genuine plutocracy are thousands of anonymous bureaucrats doing the basic work of enforcing our nation’s laws.”
— MSNBC host Chris Hayes on All In, April 15, 2014.
■ MSNBC’s Willie Geist: “Democrats in the House presented a plan yesterday to pay for their social policy and climate change package by raising taxes by more than $2 trillion, largely on wealthy people and profitable corporations.....”
Co-host Joe Scarborough: “Please, please, Democrats, do better than that. Tax capital. Take a dent on these super wealthy billionaires who keep accumulating, keep amassing fortunes."
— MSNBC’s Morning Joe, September 14, 2021.
■ Anchor Joe Fryer: “We just heard the President talking again about his billionaire tax plan, pushing that, saying he wants them to pay their fair share and to which you say?”
Business correspondent Stephanie Ruhle: “Great, make them do it. Change the rules. Those billionaires, I agree. Why aren’t they paying more?”
— MSNBC Reports, April 1, 2022.
■ “If the debt ceiling serves any purpose, it is the occasional opportunity for Congress to step back and consider the sum of all its fiscal policies. The nation is borrowing too much but not because it is spending too much. The real crisis is the need to collect more money in taxes.”
— Former New York Times economics reporter Binyamin Applebaum in a January 25, 2023 op-ed, “The Real Debt Crisis Is Low Taxes.”
For more examples from our flashback series, which we call the NewsBusters Time Machine, go here.