Surprise! 2009 Tax Bill Lowest in Nearly 60 Years

Democratic leaders will no doubt be glad to see this report in this morning's USA Today. The paper ran the numbers, and by their calculations, Americans haven't seen such a low bill from the tax man since 1950. For those of you keeping score at home, that's 11 years before President Obama was born. Here's the key paragraph:

Federal, state and local taxes—including income, property, sales and other taxes—consumed 9.2% of all personal income in 2009, the lowest rate since 1950, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports. That rate is far below the historic average of 12% for the last half-century. The overall tax burden hit bottom in December at 8.8% of income before rising slightly in the first three months of 2010.

The reasons, the article suggests, are the tax cuts that were included as part of the economic stimulus passed in February 2009, a shifting of the tax burden toward the wealthy, and a decrease in sales tax paid as many Americans slashed their consumption.

In some ways, USA Today's report is a rebuttal to Tea Partiers and others who have complained about their supposedly intolerable tax burdens—the Tea Party's name is sometimes portrayed as backronym for "taxed enough already"—except perhaps for those in the highest brackets. It also slaps down the perception that Barack Obama has raised taxes on most Americans (Obama has pledged not to raise taxes on anyone making less than $250,000 a year.) These figures tend to undermine the populist complaint that citizens are being sucked dry and back up Democrats who have countered antitax protesters by saying tax rates aren't going up. Lo and behold, they can now say, they're lower!

But it doesn't do much to answer budget hawks' worries—and in fact may concern them more. As Adam Brandon of FreedomWorks, a group that's helped to organize Tea Party events, points out to reporter Dennis Cauchon, if Americans are paying significantly lower taxes than they have in 60 years but spending hasn't been slashed drastically, deficits aren't going anywhere.