Representation Without Taxation: Little Media Notice for How Nearly Half Pay No Income Tax

A Wednesday night AP dispatch, "Nearly half of US households escape fed income tax," which predicted "47 percent will pay no federal income taxes at all for 2009," has drawn little attention on television news beyond a morning segment on CNN and some commentary on FNC where Neil Cavuto on Thursday afternoon discovered "no wonder" why so many "don't really care how much a government program costs. It's not costing them anything, so why should they? And no wonder they don't care about hiking taxes on the rich. No one's hiking taxes on them." (Laura Ingraham echoed that theme in hosting The O'Reilly Factor a few hours later.)

The AP's Stephen Ohlemacher explained so many are able to avoid paying because "their incomes were too low, or they qualified for enough credits, deductions and exemptions to eliminate their liability" as "credits for low- and middle-income families have grown so much that a family of four making as much as $50,000 will owe no federal income tax for 2009, as long as there are two children younger than 17, according to a separate analysis by the consulting firm Deloitte Tax."

On CNN's American Morning on Thursday, the MRC's Matthew Balan noticed, Christine Romans marveled over how "half of people who are working in this country will pay no federal income taxes" and wondered: "Who pays the federal income tax then, if 47 percent of people are not going to pay federal income tax." Picking up on numbers in the AP article, she reported how the burden falls on a few, a fact rarely heard in the media: "Ten percent of earners pay 73 percent of all the federal income tax revenue."

Romans, however, came to the defense of the freeloaders: "These aren't tax cheats. These are people who are legally not obligated to file federal income taxes. But they pay probably Social Security taxes, they pay local taxes, retail taxes, excise taxes. They are paying for taxes throughout their life and they are contributing to government and paying for government in that way."

The excess burden on the few is often ignored the media. My 2008 item, "CBS Relays Obama-Backer Buffett's Specious Claim Rich Under-Taxed," began:

Missing a golden opportunity to correct a specious presumption behind of Barack Obama and his liberal supporters that the wealthy are under-taxed, CBS reporter Chip Reid on Monday night highlighted how "ending the Bush tax cuts for people making more than $250,000 a year and using the money for a tax cut for the middle class" is one of Obama's highest priorities and one supported by "Warren Buffett, the richest man in the world who, despite his billions, says the rich are not taxed enough." Reid, who later in his story asserted "critics wonder how" McCain could possibly balance the budget "given his support for extending all of the Bush tax cuts," failed to inform viewers of how the wealthy increasingly pay far more than their fair share of income taxes.


The Tax Foundation reported on July 18 that new 2006 IRS tax data revealed "both the income share earned by the top 1 percent of tax returns," those earning $388,806 or more, "and the tax share paid by that top 1 percent have once again reached all-time highs." Gerald Prante pointed out those top 1 percent "paid about the same amount of federal individual income taxes as the bottom 95 percent of tax returns." The top 5 percent, those over making $153,542 or more, earned 36 percent of all the reported income, but they paid just over 60 percent of the total income taxes collected.

From Cavuto's "Common Sense" commentary at the end of the Thursday, April 8 Your World with Neil Cavuto:

...Now that I've discovered nearly half of this country's households don't pay any taxes at all, it is very clear to me that they have no skin in the game either. So, little reason to worry about the price of the skin or the game.

So no wonder they don't really care how much a government program costs. It's not costing them anything, so why should they? And no wonder they don't care about hiking taxes on the rich. No one's hiking taxes on them.

Like I said, they're not even paying taxes, either. So it is hard to expect someone to care about costs when it is no cost to them.

That is the danger, my friends, of running a government where half get it for free, and the other half, well, they just get it. And don't politicians know it. They know they can keep spending because half the country isn't paying, so likely isn't watching.

Now, that doesn't mean they aren't griping.

Some of these same folks who get a lot for nothing are the first to say they deserve a lot more, even though they're paying nothing....

- Brent Baker is Vice President for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.