2001-03 Tax Cuts Were Not Just for “The Wealthiest Few”

September 10, 2009

In his health care joint address to Congress last night, President Obama said the following:

Add it all up, and the plan I’m proposing will cost around $900 billion over ten years — less than we have spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and less than the tax cuts for the wealthiest few Americans that Congress passed at the beginning of the previous administration.

The 2001-03 tax cuts benefitted all taxpayers with taxable income, not just “the wealthiest few,” as the table below (taken from here) shows.

Pre-2001 Tax Bracket

Post-2003 Tax Bracket













Every tax rate was reduced. Now, about half of the dollar savings from the tax cuts went to the top 10% of taxpayers (when you include various credits and other tax changes included as part of the packages), but that’s probably because the top 10% pay over 70% of all income taxes. Those on the left side of the aisle may disagree with that approach to tax cuts, preferring targeted relief for lower-income individuals, but it’s disingenuous to say that the 2001-03 tax cuts only went to “the wealthiest few.”

Two other questions I’ll leave to my colleagues and other commenters. Can we really call a tax cut a “cost” like a government program? Why or why not? The reference comes to the fact that entities like CBO and OMB estimate how much revenue is lost from tax changes, just as they estimate how much will be spent for a new government program. That’s valuable information, but doesn’t equating the two lead to some perverse public policy conclusions?

And how much will repealing part of the 2001-03 tax cuts really save? Is it really $900 billion over 10 years?

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