Ongoing peculiar accounts of Paul Ryan’s marginal tax rate!


We live in fictitious times: Yesterday, with incomparable skill, we diagnosed a small minor problem:

Here it was: Everywhere we looked, journalists seemed to be offering different accounts of Paul Ryan’s position on taxes.

Some accounts were extremely vague. Some of the coherent accounts seemed to contradict the others. That brings us to today’s key question:

In his new budget plan, what has Ryan proposed for the marginal tax rate? If you read one account, you might think you know. If you read two accounts, you aren't sure!

Years ago, Michael Moore said we live in fictitious times. In recent weeks, we have said that most of our “journalism” is composed of imitations of life.

You can limn the metaphysics as you like. But yesterday, we kept hitting new accounts of a very basic matter: What is Paul Ryan’s proposal for the marginal tax rate?

Increasingly, Rachel strikes us as an undisguised joke. But here’s what we heard on her show:
MADDOW (3/12/13): Just like the old Paul Ryan budget, the new one comes with giant tax cuts for the richest people in the country. And just like last time, Mr. Ryan does not say how the government would make up for the trillions in lost revenue due to the tax cuts. Trust him, it’s magic.
She didn’t specifically mention the marginal rate. But she sure made it sound like the top tax rate has been cut!

That said, we got the same impression when we read Dana Milbank:
MILBANK (3/13/13): Paul Ryan’s budget is an amazing and wondrous document.

Not only does it balance the budget in 10 years while reducing tax rates, it also does so without any pain or suffering—or even breaking a sweat.
Milbank said it reduced tax rates. Tax rates, as in plural.

Has Ryan lowered the top tax rate? We got that same impression as we watched a panel discussion on Lawrence:
BERNSTEIN (3/12/13): And let me just get back to a point I made earlier. You see, they have to raise something like $7 trillion in revenue to offset their tax cuts. They can’t do that. Mathematically, it’s impossible.

If Mitt Romney couldn’t make the math work, this math is twice as hard. So, really, interestingly, this is a plan to increase the budget deficit because they`ll never offset those tax cuts.
Jared Bernstein referred to gigantic tax cuts, but he never got specific. That said, when we read the editorial in yesterday’s Washington Post, the editors made a rather airy statement:
EDITORIAL IN THE WASHINGTON POST (3/13/13): Mr. Ryan indulges the fantasy of an income tax code with only two marginal rates, 10 percent and 25 percent, but doesn’t specify the deductions and loopholes that would have to be eliminated to get there.
Ryan “indulges the fantasy” of a 25-percent top rate? Does that mean that he has proposed such a rate? If so, why didn’t they just come out and say so?

Has Ryan proposed a top tax rate of 25 percent? That very same day, on the Post’s front page, Lori Montgomery seemed to make that statement without any obfuscation:
MONTGOMERY (3/13/13): Ryan also calls for an overhaul of the tax code, in which he would eliminate an array of tax breaks to finance a reduction in the top rate to 25 percent from 39.6 percent, a goal Democrats say would reduce taxes for the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.
That made it sound like Ryan has flatly proposed a top tax rate of 25 percent. That would be an amazing cut in the marginal tax rate.

Has Ryan actually made that proposal? If so, why can’t our overpaid pseudo-journalists just come out and say so? Perhaps the answer lurks in Kevin Drum’s post, the very first post we read about the new Ryan plan.

Drum actually quoted from Ryan’s plan. But check what Ryan’s plan says:
DRUM (3/12/13): Why does everyone keep asking Paul Ryan why his 2014 budget accepts the fiscal cliff tax increases instead of trying to repeal them? I mean, sure, technically he's working off a baseline that includes the increases, but here's his tax plan:

“Substantially lower tax rates for individuals, with a goal of achieving a top individual rate of 25 percent.”

There is, literally, no further detail about this in his 91-page document...
According to Drum, Ryan’s plan says that he has “a goal” of cutting the marginal rate to 25 percent! According to Drum, there is no further detail in the whole 91 pages.

Is that correct? We have no idea. It used to be you could learn such things by reading newspapers or watching “news programs.” You didn’t have to waste your time reading the tax plan yourself!

Those days are long gone. Our journalism is imitation; it's pifflepoo all the way down.

If Ryan has proposed such a fuzzy “plan,” that fuzziness ought to be major news. But is that what the lad has proposed?

Because you live in fictitious times, people won’t bother to tell you. Explaining a basic matter like that is pretty much just for the squares.

Visit our incomparable archives: To see the New York Times fail to explain three times, you know what to do—just click here.


  1. You think journalists should use their ink to complain that Ryan puts his budget plan in vague, aspirational terms instead of telling their readers what Ryan's chunks of GOP buzzwords actually mean?

    Ryan opens with:
    Washington owes the American people a responsible, balanced budget. This is a plan to
    balance the budget in ten years. It invites President Obama and Senate Democrats to commit
    to the same common-sense goal. This budget will achieve the following:
    - Stop spending money we don’t have by cutting wasteful spending.
    - Fix our broken tax code to create jobs and increase wages.
    - Protect and strengthen important priorities like Medicare and national security.
    - Reform welfare programs like Medicaid so they can deliver on their promise.

    The first three sentences are rhetorical fluff with no fixed meanings. The first two bullet points are further fluff. The second two bullet points are just nonsensical. And that's Ryan's own summary of his plan.

    This is not a piece of legislation up for a vote; it is an overlong powerpoint presentation that is not driven by numbers or logic. But it seems to me that the journalists TDH has cited have explained to their readers what the likely impact will be on the public if the House GOP budget were adopted. So what's the beef?

    1. The beef is: failure to Report the news. It's a legitimate beef.

    2. Thank you for that clarification, Bob.

  2. Here is what the full report (2012 report linked from the 2013 cover sheet as the "full report") says at page 66:

    "Consolidate the current six individual income tax brackets into just two brackets of 10 and 25 percent."

    The word "goal" is not used in the text -- not sure why that would make a difference, but whatever -- and Drum is wrong: collapsing six brackets into two is an additional detail. This took me a couple of minutes to find. So what, again, is the error committed by journalists who said Ryan's plan has a top rate of 25%?

    1. It is not clear what document you are quoting from, or why you are citing some 2012 report instead of the actual plan. Here is what the House Budget Committee 2014 budget plan says:

      "Simplify the tax code to make it fairer to American families and businesses.
      • Reduce the amount of time and resources necessary to comply with tax laws.
      • Substantially lower tax rates for individuals, with a goal of achieving a top individual rate
      of 25 percent.
      • Consolidate the current seven individual-income-tax brackets into two brackets
      with a first bracket of 10 percent.
      • Repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax.
      • Reduce the corporate tax rate to 25 percent."

      It is not clear that the top bracket would be 25%, just that the goal is 25%. It is fuzzy in the 2014 budget plan released by the Budget Committee. If journalists are omitting the words "with a goal of" then they are reporting incorrectly. Collapsing the six brackets into two is stated as part of the plan, not "an additional detail" as you put it.

    2. Bullet points 3 and 4 sure look like the desire to create two tax brackets, 25% and 10%, to me. Whether or not Ryan actually "proposed it" in this ludicrous document seems to me like a useless attempt to split hairs. Most normal people are going to read those pints and walk away with the notion that Ryan wants two tax brackets, 25% and 10%, and whether or not a specific proposal was made, using that word, isn't going to be of interest. Really, I find it odd to be typing this out -- a dumbass argument about the difference between "having a goal" of something, and "proposing" it. Only among liberals do you see this kind of psuedo-intellectual dumbfuckery.

    3. When you have to pay the actual taxes, it can make a big difference whether the tax bracket is actually 25% or 35% with a goal of being eventually being lowered to 25%.

      Part of the reason this column exists is because the general public cannot parse the meaning in speech. Do you buy a car from a salesperson who says I have a goal of offering you 4.5% financing or do you read the contract to see what you will actually pay? Jounalists are supposed to read things and print what is true, not repeat the sales hype.

    4. But in this case, there is no contract to check yet. When the the salesman says he has a "goal of offering," he is initiating a negotiation--making a proposal that he may or may not be willing or able to put eventually into a contract. But it is fair to call it a "proposal" in the everyday meaning of the word.

  3. Just so it's clear, the right-leaning media describe Ryan's proposal like this in Forbes:

    For starters, what’s in the plan? Ryan’s 2014 budget would enact the following changes:

    Do away with the current seven tax rate system applied to individual taxpayers, which currently ranges from 10% to 39.6%, and replace it with only two rates: 10% and 25%.

    So that's how everyone (except TDH) is reading it.

  4. Raising or lowering taxes are not goals in themselves, they are means to achieve goals.

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