By Michael Smerconish
Let me finish with a comment on semantics and messaging.
Right here on Monday night, in a conversation about the President's proposal to extend certain of the Bush tax cuts, I said, "He or she who is making $261,000 is going to enjoy the Bush tax cuts on the first 250 of that. In other words, everybody would be a beneficiary in this scenario."
I was trying to be precise about my language because it occurred to me that there is something misleading in our conversation about tax cuts.
Here is a good example of what I was talking about. The lead of the Monday New York Times story read:
With a torpid job market and a fragile economy threatening his re-election chances, President Obama is changing the subject to tax fairness, calling for a one-year extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for people making less than $250,000.
Accurate yes, but the extension of Bush-era tax cuts the President proposes is not just for people making less than 250k — it would also apply to the first 250k earned by people who make more than that.
Dan Amira at New York Magazine spelled out what I am talking about. He noted some of the media outlets that have gotten this wrong, and then wrote:
Obama is not proposing that families making up to $250,000 a year keep their tax cuts while families making more than that don't. He's proposing that every family keep their tax cuts on their first $250,000 of taxable income (which is not the same as "income" or "earnings" by the way). That includes families with taxable income of $260,000, $1 million, $5 billion, $3 trillion, or whatever Jay-Z and Beyonce make in a year.
Amira then correctly stated that Obama himself has failed to communicate this clearly. This is part of a bigger issue: Barack Obama was the best of communicators in the 2008 election, but attempting to sell his policies as president has been a different story. On the subject of tax cuts, many Americans did not recognize a tax cut he gave them.
Dylan Matthews over at The Washington Post's Wonkblog noted that:
Of the stimulus bill, 36 percent was devoted to tax cuts, of which the biggest by far was the Making Work Pay tax credit, which was a refundable tax credit of $400 for individuals and $800 for married couples filing jointly implemented by reducing tax withholding. That structure meant that a fair number of people didn't even notice their taxes were being cut, even though the credit cost a total of $116.2 billion.
Just today, The Washington Post reported that Americans paid the lowest tax rates in 30 years to the federal government in 2009, in part because of tax cuts President Obama sought to combat the Great Recession, congressional budget analysts said Tuesday.
President Obama needs to do a much better job selling his accomplishments and not letting his opponents define them. His re-election hopes may depend on it.