Did Biden redefine who’s wealthy? No.

October 12, 2012

During his debate last night with Rep. Paul Ryan, Vice President Biden repeatedly underscored the Democratic position that Bush tax cuts for the rich should be allowed to expire. But his remarks suggested that the cutoff would be $1 million—significantly above the $250,000 threshold that President Obama and Democratic leaders have supported. Here's his explanation:

The middle class will pay less, and people making $1 million or more will begin to contribute slightly more. Let me give you one concrete example. The continuation of the Bush tax cuts — we are arguing that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy should be allowed to expire. Of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, $800 million — billion -- of that goes to people making a minimum of $1 million.


Eric Thayer/Reuters

Biden's remarks quickly set off speculation that the Obama administration might be shifting its policy position on the Bush tax cuts.

Just a few months ago, Democrats like Sen. Charles Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi both supported a $1 million cut-off before backing down. That said, the $800 billion figure is typically cited as the cost of the Bush tax cuts for households above a threshold of $250,000, not the $1 million, suggesting that Biden may have simply misspoken.

The Obama campaign says, however, that there is “no change in tax policy, the VP was using $1 million as an example of who benefits from the extension of the Bush tax cuts over $250,000." And that $800 billion figure? The campaign says the number Biden mentioned is the cost of the Bush individual tax cut combined with its estate tax break, as per the Tax Policy Center, and points out the total cost of the Bush tax breaks for those with incomes higher than $250,000, including the estate tax provision, is $968 billion.

So the Obama campaign's definition of the wealthy has stayed the same, Biden's remarks notwithstanding. 

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Ezra Klein · October 12, 2012