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"Hardworking Individuals and Married Couples"

This happened a couple of weeks ago, but a link in Tim Noah's story in Slate about Kerry's international tax proposal led me to actually look at the Treasury's politically motivated analysis of the Kerry tax plan. This attracted a bit of attention, because public employees are prohibited from working on such political projects. (In this case, they prepared the analysis at the request of Tom DeLay, so it might more accurately be called the DeLay tax plan.)

In addition to the obvious misuse of public resources, I noticed three things in this analysis that I hadn't seen mentioned before:

1. The Treasury actually did a distributional analysis, of sorts, on the Kerry plan. This is exactly the kind of analysis that they have not been willing to do on most of the Bush proposals, leaving independent organizations such as the Tax Policy Center of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute to do the work of figuring out how policy changes would affect different income classes.

2. Treasury didn't use the standard categories that would go into a distributional analysis, such as income quintiles or households with income in certain ranges. Instead, they used a category of their own devising: "Hardworking Individuals and Married Couples."

3. And what's the definition of the new population category called "Hardworking Individuals and Married Couples"? To me, it brings to mind the guy who guts chickens for a living ten hours a day and his wife who works at Wal-Mart. But I must have too bleak a view. Apparently this category refers to people who earn more than $200,000 and get much of their income from dividends and capital gains. I don't want to engage in class warfare, and I'm sure some of these people are very hardworking, but that just doesn't seem like the appropriate term.

This whole thing is just disgraceful. To top it all off, every Treasury release now has the following useful public service announcement at the bottom:

America has a choice: It can continue to grow the economy and create new jobs as the President's policies are doing; or it can raise taxes on American families and small businesses, hurting economic recovery and future job creation.

I'm sure Brad DeLong can confirm that this is the kind of thing that, in the Rubin/Summers Treasury Department -- and in fact in every Treasury Department from Hamilton and Gallatin forward -- not only would not have been done, but wouldn't even be considered.

Finally, by the way, Noah's piece wasn't about this at all, but rather, made the very important point that there's nothing protectionist about Kerry's international tax proposals. Sure, Kerry talks about "Benedict Arnold companies," and there's a little populist bluster there. But basically this is a proposal to restore tax neutrality between foreign and domestic income, which is something everyone agrees is desirable, and to eliminate the incentives for purely paper transactions that have no value except to reduce taxes. It took a long time for someone to point that out!

Posted by Mark Schmitt on April 16, 2004 | Permalink

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» Analyzing the Analysts from Political Animal
ANALYZING THE ANALYSTS....Mark Schmitt on the Treasury Department's analysis of John Kerry's tax plan: Treasury didn't use the standard categories that would go into a distributional analysis, such as income quintiles or households with income in certa... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 18, 2004 2:44:40 PM

» Analyzing the Analysts from Political Animal
ANALYZING THE ANALYSTS....Mark Schmitt on the Treasury Department's analysis of John Kerry's tax plan: Treasury didn't use the standard categories that would go into a distributional analysis, such as income quintiles or households with income in certa... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 18, 2004 2:47:41 PM

» Did They Stop to Consider... from Deinonychus antirrhopus
...that one reason why the analysis of Kerry's tax plan is for the person with $200,000 in income is because that is right where Kerry plans on raising taxes? I doubt it. Kevin Drum and Mark Schmitt aren't happy with this. I can understand why, it focu... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 18, 2004 4:21:26 PM

» Hardworking Individuals and Married Couples from Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal (2004)
There has been considerable discomfort on the part of Mark Schmitt and others at the use of Treasury civil servants to produce the highly-political Treasury press release that concludes with: JS-1247: Today, the Treasury Department produced revenue est... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 21, 2004 12:32:46 AM

» Hardworking Individuals and Married Couples from Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal (2004)
There has been considerable discomfort on the part of Mark Schmitt and others at the use of Treasury civil servants to produce the highly-political Treasury press release that concludes with: JS-1247: Today, the Treasury Department produced revenue est... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 21, 2004 11:30:28 AM

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Comments

Apparently, in addition to that very bad analysis, the Treasury Department may also be cribbing that PSA from a RNC fact sheet.

Check out this blog entry on that very point.

Posted by: paperwight | Apr 16, 2004 7:15:57 PM

I think Kerry's idea here is fine except that he's decided to make it revenue neutral by dropping the corporate tax rate.

In the spirit of Mark's recent post I think this is clearly for tactical political purposes. He can be seen as lowering taxes for corporations and therefore be seen as less anti-business. As I argue here this basically flies in the face of Dean and Edwards "theme" about the shifting of the tax burden to labor.

I think the Treasury move is appalling...I've met some of the fine folks who work in the Office of Tax Analysis and considered working there. Its a apoin of pride that their work on tax analysis is shielded from political appointees. These people can't be happy to see their reputations compromised.

Posted by: lerxst | Apr 16, 2004 8:17:13 PM

There might be a silver lining for the Democrats here -- we can say that the only individuals that the Bush administration classifies as hardworking are the dividend-earners who make more than $200K per year.

Posted by: Neil Sinhababu | Apr 17, 2004 3:11:46 AM

The text of some of the Treasury bulletins was even more partisan than the text in question. I wrote and posted an article on the subject at the URL attached to this message ( http://home.att.net/~rdavis2/treas1.html ). Feel free to use it in whatever way you wish.

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