Giving Credit Where Credit Isn't Due: Media Matters' Eric Boehlert Falsely Claims Clinton Cut Taxes at Top

October 2nd, 2010 9:45 PM

At least Eric Boehlert of the liberal media watchdog group Media Matters isn't opposed to all tax cuts. He's just hazy on when it's actually happened.

Appearing on Stephanie Miller's radio show this past Monday, Boehlert praised former president Bill Clinton for cutting taxes on top earners in this country -- when Clinton did just the opposite.

Here's the relevant exchange between Boehlert and Miller, during a discussion of Republicans' Pledge to America which cites a quote from John F. Kennedy on tax cuts (audio here) -- 

MILLER:  We were talking last hour about, you know, just a little history lesson with the Rude Pundit. You know, they use this JFK quote in this pledge. You know, the tax rate was 90 percent. He was talking about a tax cut to 70-something! To try to, you know, to try to make it seem like JFK would be against, you know, rich people paying 35 percent now is ...

BOEHLERT (laughs): Right. I mean, there was actually an argument to be made three or four decades ago when the tax rate was actually, you know, by today's standards astronomical, but of course, none of it translates to today.  I mean, Clinton did more to lower that tax rate than anyone.

MILLER: Yeah, exactly.  

Yeah, exactly the opposite is more accurate, but first things first. The quote from Kennedy mentioned by Miller, in case you're wondering, reads as follows -- 

An economy constrained by high tax rates will never produce enough revenue to balance the budget, just as it will never create enough jobs.

What Miller and Boehlert are talking about here is the top marginal tax rate applying to wealthiest Americans. And as Miller points out, Kennedy proposed dropping the rate from 90 percent (91 percent, actually) to 70 percent, which was enacted in February 1964 under Lyndon Johnson, three months after Kennedy's death.

After this, however, the conversation quickly heads south. Boehlert makes the demonstrably false claim "that Clinton did more to lower that tax rate than anyone."   

Right -- aside from JFK, Reagan, and George W. Bush. After the Kennedy tax cut set off an economic boom in the '60s (at the height of the Cold War and while the US fought a costly war in Vietnam), Reagan dropped the highest rate further, to 28 percent during the '80s (triggering another economic expansion).

After President George H.W. Bush agreed with Democrats in Congress on raising the top rate to 31 percent, Clinton raised the rate much further, to 39.6 percent, not dropping it lower "than anyone" as claimed by Boehlert.

In a March 2008 WebMemo published by the Heritage Foundation, "Tax Cuts, Not the Clinton Tax Hike, Produced the 1990s Boom," Heritage economist J.D. Foster outlined the Clinton tax hikes of 1993 -- 

-- An increase in the individual income tax rate to 36 percent and a 10 percent surcharge for the top earners, thereby effectively creating a top rate of 39.6 percent.

-- Repeal of the income cap on Medicare taxes. This provision made the 2.9 percent Medicare payroll tax apply to all wage income. Like the Social Security payroll tax base today, the Medicare tax based was capped at a certain level of wage income prior to 1993.

-- A 4.3 cent per gallon increase in transportation fuel taxes.

-- An increase in the taxable portion of Social Security benefits.

-- A permanent extension of the phase-out personal exemptions and the phase-down of the deduction for itemized expenses.

-- Raising the corporate income tax rate to 35 percent.

Boehlert is most likely confusing these significant tax increases under Clinton and a Democratic Congress in 1993 -- with tax cuts in 1997 under a chastened Clinton and Republican Congress. Foster elaborated on the 1997 tax cuts --

-- Lowered the top capital gains tax rate from 28 percent to 20 percent.

-- Created a new $500 child tax credit

-- Established the new Hope and Lifetime Learning tax credits to reduce the after-tax costs of higher education

-- Extended the air transportation excise taxes

-- Phased in an increase in the estate tax exemption from $600,000 to $1 million 

-- Established Roth IRAs and increased the income limits for deductible IRAs

-- Established education IRAs

-- Conformed AMT depreciation lives to regular tax lives

-- Phased in a 15-per-pack increase in the cigarette tax.

Foster's concluded that raising taxes in 1993 "probably slowed the economy compared to the growth it would have achieved and that the subsequent tax cuts of 1997, not the tax increases, were the source of the acceleration in real growth in the latter half of the decade."

Under President George W. Bush, the top rate of 39.6 percent dropped to 35 percent over five years as a result of the 2001 Bush tax cuts. The across-the-board tax rate reductions enacted in 2001 will revert to their Clinton-era levels at the start of 2011, though Obama and Democrats have vowed to extend them for those earning less than $250,000 annually.

Boehlert's bogus assertion about Clinton cutting taxes at the top wasn't his only goofy claim over the last week. Appearing on Ed Schultz's radio show the following day, Sept. 28, Boehlert said this while equivocating about Democratic diva Alan Grayson's deceitful ad labeling his GOP opponent Dan Webster "Taliban Dan" (audio) --

BOEHLERT: Well, I think Congressman Webster's definitely strongly anti-choice in cases of murder, rape and incest and things like that, so I think, I think that was Grayson's larger claim about trying to control women's bodies and things like that. You know, Grayson is definitely a Democrat who hits much harder than the others and if he's being fair and accurate, there's nothing wrong with that. I think it takes a lot of people by surprise because they don't, Democrats don't do it very often.

" ... in cases of murder, rape and incest ..." Eric, you left out arson!