John McCain and Barack Obama each appeared Saturday — separately — at Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., where they fielded questions from pastor Rick Warren.
One of the more interesting exchanges occurred when they were asked to define “rich.”
It’s an important question, especially given the class-warfare tactics Democrats favor and their penchant for arguing that wealthy Americans must bear an ever larger portion of the federal tax burden if they are to pay their “fair share” — whatever that means.
In response to the question, Sen. McCain made a wisecrack — “I think if you’re just talking about income, how about $5 million?” — but ultimately noted, “I don’t want to take any money from the rich. I want everybody to get richer.”
Sen. Obama responded eagerly. “I would argue that if you are making more than $250,000, then you are in the top 3, 4 percent of this country,” he said. “You are doing well.”
But Sen. Obama is talking about household income. So an individual who earns $125,000 is “rich” by Sen. Obama’s definition and deserves to pay higher federal taxes?
Is that really what most Americans would consider “rich”?
“If you do surveys, 95 percent of people think they are middle-class,” Len Burman, director of the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan group that has analyzed the candidates’ tax proposals, told the Los Angeles Times. “This is including people who are objectively quite poor and people who are objectively quite rich.”
In fact, we can get a pretty good idea of whom Democrats define as “rich” simply by looking at the tax code they’ve created to keep the money flowing into Washington.
Many tax breaks — the child tax credit, for instance — begin to phase out when a household’s income barely exceeds six figures, presumably because Democrats believe such families, solidly in the middle class, are too wealthy to deserve them.
And remember that phase-out levels for this summer’s stimulus checks kicked in at $75,000 for individuals (adjusted gross income) and $150,000 for households, meaning that Democrats considered two married, veteran schoolteachers too “rich” to merit a full rebate.
Yes, Sen. Obama’s $250,000 number for married couples may be a slightly more generous definition than what is reflected in the tax code. But it’s worth remembering that when Sen. Obama and his Democratic colleagues lay out their plans to tax the “rich,” they’re not just talking about going after aristocrats sipping Dom Pérignon while watching the yacht races from the verandas of their seven-figure vacation homes.