An important component of the leftist class warfare agenda is to condemn President Bush's tax cuts for the rich. This claim is careless, ignorant or dishonest on at least two counts. First there's the constitutional issue. Article I, Section 8 reads, "The Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes ..." That means the president has no taxing authority.
Presidents can propose or veto taxes and Congress can override vetoes. The bottom line is that all taxing authority rests with the U.S. Congress. The next time you hear someone condemn or praise Bush's tax cuts, ask them whether the Constitution has been amended to give the president taxing authority.
But what about those tax cuts for the rich? Are the rich now sharing a smaller burden of the federal income tax because their fair share of the burden has been shifted to the poor? The most recent Internal Revenue Service statistics can give us some guidance. In 2005, the top 1 percent of income earners, those with an annual adjusted gross income of $365,000 and higher, paid 39 percent of all federal income taxes; in 1999, they paid 36 percent.
In 2005, the top 5 percent of income earners, those having an adjusted gross income of $145,000 and higher, paid 60 percent of all federal taxes; in 1999, it was 55 percent. The top 10 percent, earning income more than $103,000, paid 70 percent. The top 25 percent, with income of more than $62,000, paid 86 percent, and the top 50 percent, earning $31,000 and higher, paid 97 percent of all federal taxes.
What about any argument suggesting that the burden of taxes have been shifted to the poor? The bottom 50 percent, earning $30,000 or less, paid 3 percent of total federal income taxes. In 1999, they paid 4 percent. Congressmen know all of this, but they attempt to hoodwink the average American who doesn't.
The fact that there are so many American earners who have little or no financial stake in our country poses a serious political problem. The Tax Foundation estimates that 41 percent of whites, 56 percent of blacks, 59 percent of American Indian and Aleut Eskimo and 40 percent Asian and Pacific Islanders had no 2004 federal income tax liability. The study concluded, "When all of the dependents of these income-producing households are counted, there are roughly 122 million Americans 44 percent of the U.S. population who are outside of the federal income tax system." These people represent a natural constituency for big-spending politicians. In other words, if you have little or no financial stake in America, what do you care about the cost of massive federal spending programs?
Similarly, what do you care about tax cuts if you're paying little or no taxes? In fact, you might be openly hostile toward tax cuts out of fear that they might lead to reductions in handout programs from which you benefit. Survey polls have confirmed this. According to the Harris Poll taken in June 2003, 51 percent of Democrats thought the tax cuts enacted by Congress were a bad thing, while 16 percent of Republicans thought so. Among Democrats, 67 percent thought the tax cuts were unfair while 32 percent of Republicans thought so. When asked whether the $350 billion tax cut package will help your family finances, 59 percent of those surveyed said no and 35 percent said yes.
Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.