It’s Congress’s money, but thankfully for the middle class, the Democrats will let you keep a bit more of it while raising taxes on “the rich” elsewhere. That was the message to CBS correspondent Sharyl Attkisson’s look at incoming House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.).
In her uncritical look at the incoming Congress’s go-to guy on tax policy, the CBS correspondent left out any criticism from conservatives on the new Democratic majority’s plans for your pocketbook.
Attkisson began her story presenting the new Democratic majority as intent on cutting taxes. That was despite the lengthy list of spending priorities on the Democratic agenda and a poll finding one-third of Americans expect the new Congress to raise them. “The first thing Democrats want to do is cut a once-obscure tax that millions of Americans know all too well.”
After showcasing a middle class couple, the O’Rourkes, penalized with $3,000 more in taxes under the Alternative Minimum Tax or AMT, Attkisson portrayed Rangel as “the new tax sheriff” in Washington riding to the rescue of the O’Rourkes and millions of other Americans.
Attkisson didn’t inform viewers that it was a liberal Democrats who in the first place who rustled up the votes to institute the AMT. At the time the tax was designed to soak, you guessed it, the rich.
A liberal Democratically controlled Congress in 1969 passed the AMT in an attempt to punish high-income tax avoiders, the nonpartisan Tax Foundation noted in a May 2005 Fiscal Facts backgrounder. “Rather than directly addressing the problem by eliminating the deductions and credits in the tax code that were leading to the tax avoidance, Congress laid an additional layer of complexity over the regular income tax in the form of the AMT,” wrote economists Patrick Fleenor and Andrew Chamberlain.
Fleenor and Chamberlain suggested expanding the tax base while eliminating the AMT and lowering marginal tax rates as the best policy for discouraging tax avoidance. Yet their point of view was missing from the story as Attkisson worried about where to raise taxes to make up for “a trillion dollars over 10 years” lost from AMT reform.
Nowhere in her story did Attkisson suggest spending cuts were in order, nor did she press Rangel on how a Democratic majority would keep spending in line.
Indeed, Rangel received a “hostile” rating of 9 percent for 2005 from Citizens Against Government Waste while averaging 14.5 percent on tax policy issues, an F grade, from the conservative National Taxpayers Union (NTU). Neither group was included in Attkisson’s story with a criticism of Rangel.
In an interview, NTU Deputy Press Secretary Sam Batkins told the Business & Media Institute that while his organization was “glad to see the AMT” set for “the chopping block,” Rangel has a “long way to prove” that he’s a dedicated tax-cutter or a disciplined steward of taxpayers’ money.
Batkins did praise Rangel for one stand against tax cuts, but rued that it was 16 years ago in 1990 against tax increases signed by the first President Bush in violation of his “no new taxes” pledge. Batkins added that Rangel supported President Clinton’s 1993 tax package and opposed the 2001 Bush tax cuts.
Attkisson left Rangel’s record on taxes out of the report, but she also curiously omitted the call by a prominent Clinton official’s call for tax hikes. Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin made his pitch for higher taxes in a November 9 speech to the Economic Club of Washington.
Bloomberg reporter Kevin Carmichael  noted in a November 10 article that “Rubin has remained influential” in the Democratic Party, “acting as an adviser to Democratic politicians” and donating to Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) failed 2004 presidential run. What’s more, Democratic leaders “are already planning post-election sessions with business leaders, including” Rubin, now with Citigroup (NYSE: C), in order “to discuss the party's economic agenda,” BusinessWeek’s Richard S. Dunham noted in a November 13 article.