Last night, during his Saddleback Church presidential forum, Pastor Rick Warren asked both Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) to “define rich.” With regard to tax brackets, “where do you move from middle class to rich?” Warren asked. Obama said, “if you are making $150,000 a year or less, as a family, then you’re middle class.”
McCain, however, dismissed Warren’s question, asking in jest, “How about $5 million?”
WARREN: Everybody talks about, you know, taxing the rich, but not the poor, the middle class. At what point, give me a number, give me a specific number. Where do you move from middle class to rich? [...]
MCCAIN: How about $5 million? No, but seriously, I don’t think you can, I don’t think seriously that the point is I’m trying to make, seriously, and I’m sure that comment will be distorted but the point is…that we want to keep people’s taxes low, and increase revenues. … So, it doesn’t matter really what my definition of rich is because I don’t want to raise anybody’s taxes. I really don’t.
McCain is right — millionaires are rich. In fact, those making $5 million per year or more are wealthier than 99.99% of all Americans. All but the nation’s wealthiest five percent, have household incomes of less than $174,000 per year.
But while McCain now says “it doesn’t matter really what my definition of rich is,” in 2000, he criticized tax cuts proposed by then-presidential candidate George W. Bush because they would benefit the rich “at the expense of middle-class Americans.” McCain said that he believed Bush was targeting the wrong individuals:
I don’t think the governor’s tax cut is too big–it’s just misplaced. Sixty percent of the benefits from his tax cuts go to the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans–and that’s not the kind of tax relief that Americans need. … I don’t believe the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans should get 60 percent of the tax breaks. I think the lowest 10 percent should get the breaks.
McCain summarized his position at the time saying, “I’m not giving tax cuts for the rich.” Now McCain is proposing to do exactly that. McCain — who, by his own definition, is rich — would get a $300,000 tax break if his proposals were enacted. McCain would decrease middle-class Americans’ tax bills by just $319.
WARREN: Everybody talks about, you know, taxing the rich, but not the poor, the middle class. At what point, give me a number, give me a specific number. Where do you move from middle class to rich?
MCCAIN: Some of the richest people I’ve ever known in my life are the most unhappy. I think that Rich should be defined by a home, a good job, an education, and the ability to hand to our children a more prosperous and safer world than the one that we inherited. I don’t want to take any money from the Rich. I want everybody to get Rich. I don’t believe in class warfare or redistribution of the wealth but I can tell you, for example, there are small businessmen and women who are working 16 hours a day, seven days a week, that some people would classify as “rich.” My friends, want to raise their tax, want to raise their payroll taxes. Keep taxes low. Let’s give every family in America a $7,000 tax credit for every child they have. Let’s give them a $5,000 refundable tax credit to go out and get the health insurance of their choice. Let’s not have the government take over their health care system in America.
So i think if you’re just talking about income, how about $5 million. No, but seriously, I don’t think you can, I don’t think seriously that the point is I’m trying to make seriously and I’m sure that comment will be distorted but the point is, the point is, the point is that we want to keep people’s taxes low, and increase revenues, and my friend, it was not taxing that mattered in America in the last several years. It was spending. Spending got completely out of control. [...]
So it doesn’t matter really what my definition of rich is because i don’t want to raise anybody’s taxes. I really don’t. In fact, I want to give working Americans a better shot at having a better life.