Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Extra money in paycheck: $40. Propaganda: priceless. [Updated]

    The new White House "What does $40 mean to you?" campaign is breathtaking in its cynicism and dishonesty.  When the payroll tax rate reduction of 2% was first proposed in December 2010, the President chose this illustration of the cut's impact in a Fact Sheet the White House issued:
Illustrative Family: A working family with three children making $20,000 ... would receive an additional $400 tax cut from the new payroll tax cut.
Now that the tax cut has been in place for almost 14 months and is due to expire, the Republicans insisted (until today) that the cut be paid for in some other way.  The President and the Democrats have said no, and have resorted to a brazen misrepresentation to bolster their case.
    At present, the main page of the Whitehouse.gov website is running excerpts of messages from Americans who have written to the President in response to the proposition "What $40 means."  And where does the White House come up with the $40?  Clicking through to the special page set up for this campaign, one finds this explanation:
If Congress doesn’t act, the payroll tax cut will expire at the end of February and taxes will go up on 160 million hardworking Americans. The typical family earning $50,000 a year will see about $40 less each paycheck. It’s that simple.
So our illustrative family has gone from $20,000 in 2010 to $50,000 in 2012.  (Not a bad improvement, considering the economy.)  But take special note of the way the $40 is characterized: $40 each paycheck. But how often do those paychecks come out?  To an accountant such as myself, it is readily apparent the White House is assuming bi-weekly paychecks.  (2% of $50,000 is $1,000; $1,000 divided by $40 = 25 paychecks, not 52.)  But what about the general public?  Well, just look at some of the heart-wrenching messages the White House is allowing to run on it's home page:
$40 a week is half of my family's grocery budget.
B.H., North Waterboro, ME 
$40 means that I can be able to help my mother pay for her prescriptions since she was denied medical assistance and is on SS.
E.M., Maplewood, MN 
$40 for me is about a week's grocery money!
S.Z, Cave Creek, AZ 
$40 a paycheck helps me pay for a week of lunch for my daughter at school.
E.D., Ranch Santa Margarita, CA 
$40 a paycheck covers the gas I use in only one week driving to and from work.
S.J., Haymarket, VA 
$40 less a week would have to come out of our food budget, we can not cut anything else back. We are struggling as it is now.
G.A., Kingston, NH 
$40 a week out of my husbands pay check would hurt us a lot. We both have medications to buy.
C.S., Fort Wayne, IN 
$40 represents 1 week worth of propane to heat water and my home in the winter.
B.T., Moriarty, NM 
$40 for me is about a week's grocery money!
S.Z, Cave Creek, AZ 
$40 less a week would have to come out of our food budget, we can not cut anything else back. We are struggling as it is now.
G.A., Kingston, NH 
40 a week means everything to me. Food on the table, gas in my tank, helps keep a roof over my head.
J.T., Plymouth, MN
We're not talking about one or two people.  Many of these people believe the President is talking about $40 per week for them.  This is wrong on so many levels!  I dare say a good number of these people are more like the original 2010 family making $20,000/year than the more well off $50,000 family of 2012.  And yet the President is allowing these people to jump to the totally false conclusion that possibly $2,000 of their hard earned money is in jeopardy.  Even non-accountants can (with maybe a pencil and a scrap of paper, if not in their heads) multiply $40 times 52 weeks and come up with more than $2,000 - that's a far cry from the $400 mentioned in the 2010 Fact Sheet.  Only someone making $100,000/year would see a $2,000 difference.  The family making $20,000?  Just $16/week.
    Worst of all, the White House is not content to let the deception just exist in peoples' minds - they are using these poignant stories for political ends to bully the Republicans.  Granted, when it comes to nerve, this administration makes superlatives sound cliched, but this is one of the most incredibly exploitive and manipulative operations launched by this President at the American people.  But sometime the bolder the lie, the more effective it is.  Propaganda may be despicable, but it works.

UPDATE:   This is remarkable.  On this page, the White House chose this story for an extended profile, even including a photo:

"$40 per paycheck means that I can take my 4 year old to the doctor when she gets sick ($25 copay), and maybe afford a prescription. Since I get paid biweekly as a Federal Government employee, the $40 comes from the second ." ---- Colleen from Florida
I'm not even sure I understand what "the $40 comes from the second" means.  I guess she is referring to the prescription?  But "I get paid bi-weekly"?  She actually seems to think she'd get $40 per paycheck if she were paid weekly instead of bi-weekly!  And she works for the federal government!  And the White House singled out her confused, misleading story for special attention.  How could this not be intentional?

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