Barack Obama and John McCain have important differences on tax policy. These are fair game for campaign ads, and no one expects 30-second spots to be suffused with nuance. But Mr. McCain's latest attack on the Obama tax plan crosses the line from reasonable argument to unacceptably misleading.
"Obama voted to raise taxes on people making just $42,000," the announcer warns. The basis for this statement is the senator's vote for the fiscal 2009 budget resolution, a nonbinding blueprint that assumed that all the Bush tax cuts would expire as scheduled. However, Obama has repeatedly said he wants to extend the Bush tax cuts for families making less than $250,000 a year.
If anything, he has lavished TOO MUCH in tax breaks on the middle class, proposing an expensive $1,000-per-family additional tax credit and, last weekend, piling on top of that an immediate, presumably one-time, $1,000-per-family rebate for energy costs.
"The Obama plan would reduce taxes for low- and moderate-income families, but raise them significantly for high-bracket taxpayers," the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center reported. "By 2012, middle-income taxpayers would see their after-tax income rise by 4.6 percent, or $2,100 annually." In fact, the center found, McCain was LESS generous than Obama to middle-income taxpayers, trimming their taxes by about 3 percent of income, or $1,400 annually, by 2012.
The McCain ad continues in the same dishonest vein: "He promises more taxes on small business, seniors, your life savings, your family." Obama would increase taxes on small business - but only the tiny sliver that earn more than $250,000 a year. He would - unwisely, in our view - LOWER taxes on seniors, excusing those making less than $50,000 a year from paying any tax whatsoever.
As for going after people's "life savings," Obama would exempt 99.7 percent of households from paying the estate tax. He would tax the "life savings" only of couples who leave a combined estate worth more than $7 million.
Obama is not blameless in the ad wars. He asserts that McCain would give new tax breaks to "Big Oil," without making clear that this is part of an overall reduction in the corporate tax rate. A radio ad released Friday warns that "there's something John McCain's not telling you: It was McCain who used his influence in the Senate to help foreign-owned DHL buy a U.S. company and gain control over the jobs that are now on the chopping block in Ohio."
Sorry, but there's something Obama's not telling voters, either. "Foreign-owned DHL," which acquired Airborne Express, likely SAVED jobs that were on the chopping block in 2003, when the merger took place.
Then, McCain opposed an ill-considered provision by U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, pushed by DHL rivals Federal Express and United Parcel Service, that would have blocked its takeover of the struggling No. 3 Airborne. The current controversy involves a move by "foreign-owned DHL," now struggling itself, to outsource air cargo operations to, yes, American-owned UPS.
Obama should tamp down the xenophobic rhetoric. McCain should stop trying to scare voters by mischaracterizing Obama's tax plan.