Michele Bachmann's Happy Meal Tax


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While all of the 2012 GOP presidential candidates have had their fair share of tax policy blunders, Minnesota Republican Representative Michele Bachmann has stood out among the field for her outrageous and often factually incorrect statements about our tax system.

During the recent CNBC GOP Debate, Bachmann mentioned “47 percent of Americans who pay no federal income tax” and then took this point a step further saying that “even if it means paying the price of two Happy Meals a year, like $10, everyone can afford at least that.”

Bachmann’s statement is intentionally misleading. While many Americans do not pay federal income taxes, all Americans pay other taxes such as payroll, property, sales taxes (often on the Happy Meals they buy), and other largely regressive taxes.

Some taxpayers don’t pay federal income taxes because they are working poor families who receive the refundable parts of the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit (which are available only if an adult in the family is working). Other taxpayers don’t pay federal income taxes because they are recipients of Social Security benefits, most of which are not taxed.

One recent report from CTJ found that if we set aside Social Security recipients and combine just two taxes, federal income taxes and payroll taxes, the number of Americans “not paying” drops to 15 percent, and these are concentrated among the poor.

Michelle Bachmann said other wildly inaccurate things about taxes during the same debate. For example, she claimed that the United States has an “effective” corporate tax rate of about 40 percent. She apparently was referring to the federal statutory corporate tax rate of 35 percent, which, combined with the average state statutory corporate tax rate would be around 40 percent. Of course, this is entirely different from the effective corporate tax rate, which is the percentage of profits that corporations actually pay in taxes after accounting for the wide range of tax breaks and loopholes.

The recent CTJ-ITEP report “Corporate Taxpayers & Tax Dodgers,” examines most of the Fortune 500 companies that were profitable over the last three years and finds that their effective corporate income tax rate was just 18.5 percent on average. Many major corporations like General Electric or Verizon paid nothing at all.

These corporate tax breaks and loopholes have spun so out of control in the US that despite having the second highest statutory corporate tax rate in the developed world, the US actually has the second lowest rate of corporate tax collected as a percentage of GDP.

Although Bachmann was especially brazen in the most recent debate, she has a history of outrageous tax policy statements. For example, she has advocated for the elimination of all taxes, rewritten fiscal history by claiming that the Bush tax cuts aren’t the main driver of the deficit, and promoted a job killing corporate tax amnesty program.


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