First Hard Numbers on Obama Tax Plan Show Dramatic Tax Redistribution

June 26, 2008

Senator Obama's tax plan is a dramatic redistribution of the nation's tax burden, according to a new Tax Foundation analysis.

In Tax Foundation Fiscal Fact, No. 132, Tax Foundation president Scott Hodge uses revenue estimates from the Tax Policy Center to show that Obama's plan would greatly accelerate the decades-long trend toward a federal government that depends for tax revenue almost exclusively on a few high-income people. 

This contrasts starkly with the McCain plan, according to Hodge, which would give every taxpayer a cut and leave the current tax burden distribution approximately where it is.

"Under the Obama plan for 2009," explains Hodge, "more than $131 billion would be redistributed from the top 1 percent of taxpayers to all other taxpayers."

As a result, the top 1 percent of households would pay more federal taxes of all kinds than the bottom 80 percent of households. That lopsided distribution under Obama does include payroll taxes and other federal taxes, but it excludes the new payroll tax hike that Obama plans to levy on people making more than $250,000 because details about that plan are currently unclear.

"In other words," says Hodge, "it is at this point a cautious estimate to say that in 2009, under Obama's plan, 1.13 million Americans would pay more in all federal taxes than 128 million of their fellow citizens combined."

To put the Obama plan in historical context, Hodge cites various statistics that show the U.S. tax system evolving into one where a majority of Americans pay little or nothing:

  • Between 1999 and 2006, the number of tax filers who had no income tax liability after taking advantage of their credits and deductions grew from 30 million to nearly 44 million.
  • Looking at all federal taxes combined, the CBO says that between 1990 and 2005, the tax share of the bottom 80 percent of households dropped from 42 percent of the total to 31 percent. Meanwhile, the tax share of the top 1 percent of households rose from 16 percent to 28 percent.
  • In 2004, the nation's tax and spending policies redistributed more than $1 trillion in income from the top 40 percent of American households to the bottom 60 percent of households.

Hodge points out that in contrast to much campaign rhetoric about helping low- and middle-income people, Obama's plan redistributes more dollars from the top 1 percent to the rest of the top 20 percent (those earning roughly $93,000 to $192,000 per year) than to any of the lower-earning quintiles of taxpayers.

Hodge acknowledges that some Americans may cheer this dramatic dependence on the highest earners, but he says the shift should be part of a larger national discussion asking questions such as:

  • What is the long-term effect on the economy if so few households shoulder such a large share of the tax burden?
  • When a majority of Americans are paying so little for government, will that majority then demand even more services than they would have otherwise?
  • Can a tax system so focused on redistribution be compatible with economic growth?

The new study, "Hard Numbers on Obama's Redistribution Plan," is available online at

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