Just As I Thought

Things to watch for

In this presidential campaign, there will be a lot of fuzzy math. Michael Kinsley reports:

One of the weapons in Bush’s arsenal is an old family heirloom. Bush fired it himself during his big Florida rally over the weekend. He asserted that John Kerry had voted for higher taxes 350 times during his 20 years in the Senate. Vice President Cheney and other presidential surrogates have been using this statistoid for several weeks, and it has been picked up and repeated in the conservative media echo chamber.

… Counting tax increases is an absurd way to measure a candidate’s general propensity on taxes. George the elder’s list of Clinton tax increases included such things as an extension of the dog-racing season, on the logic that a longer season meant more tax revenue. George the younger’s first item asserts that “In 1995, Kerry Voted For [a] Resolution That Said Middle Class Tax Cuts Were Not Wise.” This turns out to be a vote in the midst of that nearly forgotten frenzy, the Gingrich revolution. It was a vote against a particular tax cut of $700 billion, on a resolution declaring with almost tautological justice that subtracting $700 billion from revenue would make it harder to balance the budget. The resolution passed the Republican-controlled House and Senate, but a decade later the Republican president uses it to tar his Democratic opponent.

The documentation on the GOP Web site about Kerry’s supposed 350 votes to increase taxes lists only 67 votes “for higher taxes.” Most of these are votes against a tax cut, not in favor of a tax increase. The 67 include nine votes listed twice, three listed three times, and two listed four times. The logic seems to be that if a bill contains more than one item (as almost all bills do), it counts as separate votes for or against each item. The Bush list also includes several series of sequentially numbered votes, which are procedural twists on the same bill. And there are votes on the identical issue in different years. The only tax increase on Bush’s list (counted twice, but hey . . . ) is Kerry’s support for Clinton’s 1993 deficit-reduction plan. That’s the one that raised rates in the top bracket and led to a decade of such fabulous prosperity that even its most affluent victims ended up better off.

The best way to see the absurdity of saying that Kerry voted for higher taxes 350 times is to apply Bush’s madcap logic to Bush himself. Every year, in the president’s budget, there is a table called “Effect of Proposals on Receipts.” It lists the president’s proposed changes in the tax rules and how they will affect government revenue for various periods up to 15 years. Most of Bush’s proposals will cost revenue, obviously. But in the four fiscal years between 2002 and 2005, Bush has proposed 63 actual “revenue enhancers,” as his father used to call them. This doesn’t include, as Bush includes for Kerry, his opposition to any tax cuts (and there have been some, such as Democratic proposals to reduce the payroll tax). Nor does the list seem to include any “supply-side” revenue enhancement by magic or growth. These are actual proposals to take more money out of people’s pockets and give it to the government.

At Bush’s current rate of 16 “tax increases” a year, he’d have 320 under his belt if he could stay in the White House for 20 years. Depending on how you figure — but without wandering beyond Bush himself into the jungles of absurd logic — this is as many as eight times the number that Bush has managed to pin on Kerry. But isn’t it unfair to call, for example, more efficient administration at the IRS a tax increase? And isn’t it simply ridiculous to suggest that George W. Bush is more complacent about higher taxes than John Kerry? Yes, it’s unfair. It’s ridiculous. That’s the point.

Like any other advertising claims, you should not believe everything you hear from the guy who’s selling.

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