OMB director: "We're not saying there's anything wrong with people earning a lot"

Jack Lew today couldn’t say how an additional tax on millionaires and billionaires will create jobs — and barely confirmed that he thinks such a tax will at least contribute to deficit reduction. The director of the Office of Management and Budget appeared this morning on Fox News’ “Happening Now” to defend the president’s just-announced proposals to trim the deficit — proposals that are a part of his overall jobs plan. Fox’s Jenna Lee asked Lew how the tax will reduce the nation’s high rate of unemployment.

“Today’s plan puts into place a balanced, fair approach to doing the $4 trillion of deficit reduction we need to get to a point where our deficit as a percentage of the economy is at a sustainable level,” Lew told her. “Whichever way you go is a hard choice. There’s a Republican budget in the House that would make severe changes in Medicare and turn it into a voucher program. It would reduce spending on things like education and research and development to the point where we couldn’t invest in what we need for the future.”

Better to tax the super rich, Lew suggested.

“We believe there’s a fundamental unfairness to have middle class people paying higher marginal tax rates than millionaires and billionaires,” Lew said. “We’re not saying we should have a confiscatory tax rate; we’re saying it’s just not fair to have a world where it’s so unbalanced.”

Lee conceded fairness in the tax code is a laudable goal, but again pressed Lew as to how the tax will grow jobs. She wondered: Which of the president’s proposals specifically will improve the jobs situation? Lew didn’t have an answer.

“If you look at the overall package, the things that will create jobs are, first of all, passing the Americans Jobs Act by doing the things that would create demand now and directly create jobs through public works like roads and bridges and keeping teachers and firemen and policemen on the rolls,” Lew said.

At that point, Lee stopped trying and took the tack of this question instead: The revenues from the tax will at least go straight to deficit reduction, right? Well, sure, Lew (sort of) said.

“Well, obviously, it’s a package that overall will reduce the deficit,” he said. “The overall revenue is connected to the overall spending and if you net are bringing down your deficit, yes, it’s very much contributing to bringing down the deficit.”

Seemingly sensing that he had rejected the only two reasonable justifications for the tax — that it will either create jobs or reduce the deficit — Lew fell back on the “it’s not fair” argument.

“We’re not saying that there’s anything wrong with people earning a lot and being very successful,” he concluded lamely. “What we’re saying is it’s not fair to say those people should pay lower taxes than people who are earning much less.”

But while the president says Warren Buffett is paying less in taxes than his secretary, it’s not exactly accurate to say all millionaires and billionaires pay lower taxes than people who are earning less.

In 2009, 236,883 people reported more than $1 million in income — and paid $177 billion in federal income taxes, according to an infograph on Fox. That represents 0.2 percent of all federal tax returns, but makes up more than 20 percent of all income tax payments.

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