In his Friday "Check Point" feature, "Will the Real Tax-and-Spender Please 'Fess Up?" reporter Larry Rohter used a Tax Foundation study totry and insistthat Barack Obama (perhaps the most liberal senator) is actually not thebig tax-and-spender Republican John McCain claims he is.
With the general election in full gear, Senator John McCain has stepped up efforts to paint his rival, Senator Barack Obama, as what he calls a traditional Democratic tax-and-spend liberal. On Tuesday, for instance, Mr. McCain, addressing a business gathering, accused Mr. Obama of wanting to enact "the largest single tax increase since World War II."
Mr. McCain, the expected Republican nominee, also said that "under Senator Obama's tax plan, Americans of every background would see their taxes rise - seniors, parents, small-business owners and just about everyone who has even a modest investment in the market." He used much the same language in an April 15 speech in which he warned that Democrats "are going to raise your taxes by thousands of dollars per year," adding up to "a trillion dollars in new taxes over the next decade."
Economists of various ideological persuasions, however, view Mr. McCain's assessment as inaccurate or exaggerated. Some question whether Mr. Obama's tax plan can even be characterized as an increase. Some also argue that contrary to Mr. McCain's assertions, the Democrat's proposals, if enacted, would actually reduce taxes for the middle class - the voters both candidates see as the key to victory.
In a study of the candidates' plans made public Wednesday, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center concluded that in contrast to Mr. McCain, "Senator Obama offers much larger tax breaks to low- and middle-income taxpayers and would increase taxes on high-income taxpayers."
Rohter inserted a single brief clause noting the study also questioned the Obama campaign for being "overoptimistic" about the amount of revenue to be had from closing tax loopholes.
According to the group's computations, under Mr. Obama's plan, the middle of the middle class, or those earning $37,595 to $66,354, would see taxes cut by $1,042 a year. Under Mr. McCain's plan, taxes for people in that category would also fall, but by $319; the largest chunk of the benefits would go to those making $2.8 million a year or more.
"When you hear this talk on the TV about how Obama's a tax-and-spend liberal and he's going to destroy businesses, it's just not true," Mr. Obama said Thursday in Kaukauna, Wis. The reality, he said, is that "the typical middle-class family will get three times more from my cut than the one John McCain has proposed."
In a conference call with reporters Thursday, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Mr. McCain's senior economic adviser, complained about what he described as flaws in the Tax Policy Center study. He called it "an incomplete analysis" that made "some fundamentally unrealistic assumptions" about Mr. Obama's plan, specifically in the area of taxes on small businesses, and accepted spending projections for the Democrat "that also don't add up."
Later, McCain is even faulted for not pointing out attractive features of Obama's plan, as if that's the job of a rival campaign. Rohter also engaged in some slanted labeling, as the left-wing, union-funded Economic Policy Institute is benignly termed "generally viewed as sympathetic to working families."
Mr. McCain is correct when he says that Mr. Obama intends to increase the maximum tax rate on capital gains, the bulk of which fall on the wealthiest segment of the population, and that he would be less generous in offering breaks on the estate tax. But he tends to play down or ignore Mr. Obama's proposals to eliminate taxes for retirees earning less than $50,000 a year and to give tax breaks to workers earning less than $75,000 annually.
"McCain is picking the areas where rates go up and ignoring the areas where Obama is trying to rebalance the tax code so that taxpayers would save," said John Irons, research and policy director at the Economic Policy Institute, which is generally viewed as sympathetic to working families. Mr. Irons said that "the important thing is to look at overall impact on people" and that on this score, "the vast majority of the population, almost the entirety of the middle class, would see more from Obama than McCain."
As long as the Times is being diligent in pointing out possible flaws in candidate rhetoric, how about an the analysis showing how Obama was wrong and McCain was right about the positive effects of the troop "surge" in Iraq?