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Tea parties and the middle class

April 1, 2009 - Jim Anderson
Here’s a portion of a press release we received today from Americans for Prosperity-Michigan:

‘Joe the Plumber’ to speak at April 15th Michigan Taxpayer Tea Party —

Americans For Prosperity-Michigan arranges for symbol of the Middle Class American as keynote speaker

LANSING — Americans for Prosperity-Michigan is proud to announce that Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, "Joe the Plumber," will speak at the Michigan Taxpayer Tea Party on the steps of the State Capitol in Lansing on April 15.

“With one simple question to Presidential Candidate Barack Obama, Joe the Plumber changed the atmosphere of last fall’s presidential campaign,” said Scott Hagerstrom, state director of Americans for Prosperity. “Joe is truly an inspiration to all Americans on how grassroots activism can have a positive difference for the future of our country.”

The tea party is part of a larger nation-wide movement to protest wasteful government spending at the state and national levels. The event is free and open to the public.

I'm curious, mainly, about how we make the leap to accepting Joe the Plumber as a symbol of the "Middle Class American."

His famous question to Barack Obama was this:

"I'm getting ready to buy a company that makes 250 to 280 thousand dollars a year. Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn't it?"

Ignoring the extraneous stuff that’s been revealed about Wurzelbacher, let's just get to the premise: Making $250,000 annually is a symbol of the middle class?

In what world is that?

The point, some will argue, is that the tax code shouldn't discourage middle class Americans from working up to that level of income. But most of us, in reality, are light years from $250,000 a year.

Maybe a better symbol of the middle class would be billionaire Warren Buffett's secretary. A couple of years ago, Buffett said that he was taxed at 17.7 percent on the $46 million he had made the previous year — without trying to avoid paying higher taxes — while his secretary, who earned $60,000, was taxed at 30 percent.

Just a thought for the tea party organizers.

4-2-09 addendum:

Wurzelbacher’s question was directed at Obama’s well-publicized proposal to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire for families with more than $250,000 in taxable income ($200,000 for individuals).

Did Wurzelbacher have a warped sense of his earning potential? Probably. That’s one reason why he’s a weak symbol.

Hard work and dedication might enable you to keep a job or business in middle America. (And, yes, you’ll pay plenty of taxes along the way.) Only rarely will it mean $250K in income a year.

Warren Buffett apparently appreciates his secretary, but only to the tune of $60K a year — nice pay, but not $250K. And she doesn't have to reach that threshold to pay a higher tax rate than the billionaire boss. That would seem a more telling symbol of the middle class tax burden.


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