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Hillary Clinton’s claim that she’s the only candidate in either party who would not raise middle-class taxes (and promises to raise incomes)

“And there is a big difference between me and everybody else running on both sides. I’m the only person running who says my goal and my pledge is to raise incomes, not raise middle-class taxes. I will not raise middle-class taxes.”

–Hillary Clinton, remarks in Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 4, 2016

“I also believe we need a tax system that makes the wealthy pay more and does not tax the middle-class. I’m the only candidate running, in either party, who will tell you my goal, my pledge, is to raise incomes, not taxes, on the middle-class. And that’s what I think we should be doing.”

–Clinton, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Jan. 4

“I also think it’s imperative that we fix the tax system so it no longer favors the rich and the corporate interests in America. So I’ve outlined a bunch of ways to close those loopholes, get rid of those deductions and also do more to help middle-class families. I’m the only candidate in this race on either side who has said my goal is to raise your incomes, not your taxes, and that is a pledge.”

–Clinton, Davenport, Iowa, Jan. 4

There are few facts more interesting than a brand new talking point. This line emerged this week from the Clinton campaign, and the former secretary of state repeated it since then to many audiences.

But a talking point has to makes sense in order to be effective. Clinton is trying to seize the anti-tax mantle from both her primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and from Republicans. But just about every Republican has signed an anti-tax pledge. What’s she getting at?

The Facts

As we said, just about every Republican running for president has signed the famous pledge promoted by Americans for Tax Reform that promises to “oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal tax rates for individuals and/or businesses.” A signer of the pledge also refuses to opposes any reduction in deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by lower tax rates.

It’s quite a sweeping promise, and here’s the list of Republican presidential candidates who have signed it:

Josh Schwerin, a Clinton spokesman, said that Clinton was making a two-pronged argument – that she would not raise middle-class taxes and she would raise incomes.

“While Hillary Clinton has repeatedly made it clear that she views raising incomes for hardworking families as the defining economic challenge of our time, no Republican has offered a real plan to raise incomes for middle class families beyond the same failed trickle down economics proposals that have been proven ineffective,” Schwerin said. “Unlike the Republicans, Clinton has put out concrete, comprehensive plans to raise incomes and create good-paying jobs across a range of key areas, from infrastructure and higher ed to profit sharing and raising the minimum wage.”

Clinton certainly has lots of proposals, drawn from the standard Democratic wish list, but it’s hard to claim with a straight face that her plans are guaranteed to raise incomes. Sanders, in fact, has many similar proposals, though on a grander scale (such as boosting the minimum wage to $15 an hour, compared to Clinton’s $12).

Sanders’s tax plans are mainly aimed at the wealthy. While he has not ruled out small increases on the middle class—his proposal for guaranteed family and medical leave includes a relatively small payroll tax—his campaign argues that the middle class would easily see far more in benefits, thus raising incomes. (The Sanders campaign claims that free college tuition would supposedly save an average of nearly $10,000 a year and universal health care would save $5,000, and so forth. But we have not vetted those figures.)

Likewise, the Republicans each have a bevy of plans that in theory would raise incomes. Many of these plans operate through the tax code or target union rules—typical positions for Republicans—but they can credibly argue that they do offer plans that would raises incomes and spur economic growth. Dismissing them as not “real plans” is not really credible, given how few of these campaign plans ever survive the reality of governing.

The Pinocchio Test

Frankly, this is rhetorical hooey. Every candidate can claim they have plans—few of which will ever come to fruition in exactly the same way if the candidate is actually elected president—but it’s absurd for Clinton to claim that she is the only candidate in either party to have a plan to both raise incomes and not raise middle class taxes.  The Republicans all say they won’t raise taxes—and every candidate promises to raise incomes.

Even if Clinton’s plans are a bit more detailed–a debatable point–she cannot sweepingly suggest that she is the only candidate in either party who would not raise middle-class taxes. That’s really her key talking point–and that’s certainly news to Republicans, and maybe even Bernie Sanders.

This is an example of actually believing your own spin, no matter how absurd.

Four Pinocchios

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