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Critics of Congress’s $800 billion tax relief plan – which would reduce the marriage penalty while cutting tax rates by one percentage point – are outraged that these measures will give a larger tax cut, at least in dollar terms, to upper-income families than middle-income families. This is like being shocked that the sun sets in the West.
No one should be surprised that Congress’s plan would save upper-income families more – again, in dollar terms – than their middle-income counterparts since wealthier families have far larger tax bills than middle-income families (this year a family of four earning $200,000 will pay $36,569 in income taxes, about 10 times more than a family with one-fourth the income). But the true measure of how any tax cut plan benefits families across the income spectrum is not the dollar amount of the tax cut, but how much of a family’s tax bill is erased by the tax cut measure.
The bottom line is, as the nearby chart shows, Congress’s plan will erase more of the tax bill for lower- and middle-income families than it will for upper-income families. In addition to cutting every tax rate by one percentage point, Congress’s plan would increase the standard deduction for joint filing couples (currently $7,200) to double that for single filers (currently $4,300). This measure, which would shield an extra $1,400 per year from the tax collector, is especially beneficial to families earning between $25,000 and $40,000 per year who typically can’t take advantage of itemized deductions.
The plan would further address the marriage penalty by increasing the width of the 15 percent tax bracket (which would be lowered to 14 percent) to twice that imposed on single filers. Currently, the 15 percent bracket ends at $25,750 for a single person, but just $43,050 for joint filers. This measure is particularly beneficial to dual-income working couples such as a fireman and a schoolteacher who each earn, say, $35,000 per year.
The combined effect of each of these measures is better for middle-income families than for upper-income families. After all, isn’t that what class warriors want?