Semantically-challenged Post fact-checker may have ceased being The Man: In September 2000, we made it official.
People were asking, “Who Da Man?” We announced that it might be Glenn Kessler.
How did you think Kessler got his job as the Washington Post’s fact-checker? We suspect it was us all along.
(See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/8/00.)
Kessler had done some nice work at the Post. Today, though, we may be inclined to strip him of his clown, due to needless semantic scuffling in this recent report.
Good grief! The question at issue is this:
If Obama gets his way with the Bush and/or Clinton tax rates, will high earners be facing a “tax increase” next year? Or will they be getting a “tax cut?”
It’s easy to explain the facts. If Obama’s position prevails, high earners will have to pay more in taxes next year than they’re paying this year.
On the other hand:
If Obama's position prevails, high earners will have to pay less in taxes nex tyear than they'll have to pay if all the Bush tax rates expire. Under current law, that’s what is slated to happen at the end of the year. (Obama would retain the Bush rates on income below $250,000.)
There you have the basic facts. Now the semantic question intrudes:
If Obama’s position prevails, are those high earners getting a tax cut? Or are they getting slapped with an increase?
You can call it whatever you like, as long as you explain what you mean. Sensible people avoid such discussions. That said, your lizard brain may tell you to fight to the end.
And that's close to what Kessler did in his uncharacteristically confusing presentation. As he ends his piece, he says he “tends to avoid philosophical [semantic] disputes.” Then he wades right in:
KESSLER (7/10/12): The law is clear: The Bush tax cuts will expire at the end of the year, and a new law is needed to enact new tax cuts. By the numbers, it is difficult to make the case that this is a “massive tax increase.” The president’s proposal would reduce revenue by some $150 billion, and virtually all taxpayers would get some benefit from the proposal.Alas, clear Kessler! He implies that Obama’s proposal can’t “legitimately” be called a tax increase. But it can be called a tax increase, as long as people know what you mean.
Now, under “current policy,” wealthier taxpayers would see an increase in taxes. We tend to avoid philosophical disputes, but certainly as a matter of philosophy one could argue that Obama is proposing to boost taxes on the wealthy.
But Republicans in 2001 wanted to have their cake and eat it too, which is why the tax cuts were designed to sunset in the first place. If they had agreed to a smaller tax cut, as some Democrats had demanded, the rate changes would have become permanent—and then the president’s proposal could legitimately be called a tax increase.
The insertion of the words “current policy” would make the Romney statement more accurate, but as it stands it is misleading, especially given the decision by Republican lawmakers to structure the tax cut in this manner.
In this case, here’s what you would mean:
Under Obama’s proposal, high earners would have to pay more next year than they’re paying this year. In that sense, their taxes would be higher than they currently are. You can rather sensibly call that a “tax increase.”
(By the way, that’s pretty much what Obama call it. He routinely says that high earners should pay a little bit more.)
We’re going to let Kessler keep his crown. But going forward, you may see a ton of pointless confusion surrounding this point.
We always thought we could turn to Kessler for help. Has “Da Man” let us down?
What your lizard brain may tell you: Your lizard brain may tell you to argue about what such a policy change “really” is.
Unless you simply like to fight, your lizard brain will be wrong.