During an interview that aired today on CBS’ This Morning, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) incorrectly cited the amount of taxes paid by the richest 10 percent of taxpayers, in an attempt to argue that the tax code is already “extraordinarily progressive.” McConnell also said that the tax code is “a mess” because so many Americans make too little income to have any federal income tax liability:
Almost 70 percent of the federal revenue is provided by the top 10 percent of taxpayers now. Between 45 percent and 50 percent of Americans pay no income tax at all. We have an extraordinarily progressive tax code already. It is a mess and needs to be revisited again.
On the numbers, McConnell is simply wrong. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the richest 20 percent of taxpayers — not 10 percent — pay about 70 percent of federal taxes. Taking into account more regressive state and local taxes, the richest 10 percent pay less than 50 percent of total revenue.
McConnell is also engaging in a favorite argument of conservatives, using the total share of federal income taxes paid by the rich to seemingly argue that low-income Americans do not pay enough taxes. But the reason so many Americans do not have federal income tax liability is that they simply don’t make enough money.
Once payroll taxes are taken into account, less than a quarter of Americans pay no federal taxes, and many of those are the elderly, students, or unemployed. And as this chart shows, Americans’ taxes are largely in line with their share of income:
Raising taxes on the poor is consistently the one tax increase to which Republicans are open, even as they remain totally unconcerned with the tens of thousands of wealthy households that pay no federal income tax.