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Tax Burden Shifts to the Middle

They point to a different set of numbers within the CBO study that show that the rich are actually paying more in individual federal income taxes. If Social Security, Medicare and other federal levies are excluded, the rich are paying a higher share of income taxes this year than they would have paid with no tax changes, the CBO found. If none of the tax cuts had passed, the top 20 percent would pay 78.4 percent of income taxes this year. Instead, they will pay 82.1 percent. In contrast, the middle-class share of income taxes dropped to 5.4 percent, from 6.4 percent if no tax cuts had passed.

"Are the rich paying their fair share?" asked one GOP aide. "Yeah. They're paying more."

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But to Democrats, the conclusion was clear. For the bottom 20 percent of households, the combined Bush tax cuts averaged $250 each. The middle 20 percent received $1,090, while the top 1 percent garnered $78,460, said Democrats on the Joint Economic Committee who analyzed the report.

The tax cuts this year will boost the income of millionaires by 10.1 percent, while middle-income families see a boost of 2.3 percent, the Democrats said.

Congressional Republican aides said the CBO analysis has its limitations. For instance, it assumes that the beneficiaries of business tax cuts passed in 2002 and 2003 are the taxpayers who own stocks, bonds and other stakes in the businesses that received the reductions. But that analysis does not consider new workers hired because of the tax cuts, or higher wages that may have been granted because of the boost to the bottom line.

It also does not reflect that during the 1990s, the tax rates on lower-income households fell considerably due to an expansion of the earned income tax credit and other forms of low-income relief. In that sense, GOP aides said, tax cuts for the wealthy were overdue.

Besides, Holt said, looking narrowly at the distribution of tax cuts ignores the broader benefits -- such as investment, consumer spending, and job creation -- that flow from leaving more money in people's hands and that are spread far more evenly through the economy.

"Tax relief is about fairness, but it's also about economic growth," he said. "So the president's tax relief was both fair and effective, when it comes to bringing us from recession to growth."

But Republicans predicted that Kerry will make the report a major political event, and Furman said the results will be too stark to spin.

"This is the first really detailed government report that says not only did the wealthy get an enormous tax cut, but, if the conclusions are what we expect, the middle class will be left paying a larger proportion of the taxes than they were before," he said.

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