by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
“The Republican tax bill hurtling through Congress is increasingly tilting the United States tax code to benefit wealthy Americans.” That’s the beginning of the 37-word first sentence in the New York Times’s stage-setting front page story on the tax bill under consideration in the Senate this week.
It’s a nice illustration of creatively phrased advocacy journalism. “Hurtling” suggests irrational, uncontrolled, threatening movement; “tilting” suggests abandoning upstanding fairness; spelling out “the United States tax code” suggests an ominous attack on a respected national institution. And all this “to benefit wealthy Americans.”
This is less reportage than advocacy journalism, written to advance the argument, with which many people agree, that Republican tax bills are harmful because they make federal taxation less progressive. But it’s also an argument against any tax cut at any time. After all, if you start off with a progressive system that imposes higher rates on high earners and doesn’t tax low earners at all — as the current federal income tax does — then every tax cut takes that shape.
Missing from the arguments of Republicans’ critics is acknowledgement that we already have what is, by most measures, the most progressive national tax system in the world. Other advanced countries tend to rely more heavily on regressive sales (value-added) taxes and many have less steeply graduated income taxes.