WaPo Fact Checker Gives Biden 'Four Pinocchios' for Claiming Tax Cuts Only Benefitted Wealthy

Joe Biden / Getty Images
May 1, 2019

The Washington Post‘s fact checker gave former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden a "Four Pinocchio" rating for comments he made about President Donald Trump's tax cuts only benefitting the rich.

"There's a $2 trillion tax cut last year. Did you feel it? Did you get anything from it? Of course not. Of course not. All of it went to folks at the top and corporations," Biden said during a campaign rally in Pittsburgh on Monday.

Glenn Kessler, the Post's fact checker, started his analysis of Biden's false claim by saying, "Here we go again. Democrats have long attacked President Trump's tax cut in misleading ways," adding that Biden's comment is a "whopper." He went on to say the biggest problem with Biden's claim is his "sweeping declaration" that all of the tax cuts benefitted the wealthy.

As we have explained before, any broad-based tax cut is going to mostly benefit the wealthy because they already pay a large share of income taxes. According to Treasury Department data, the top 20 percent of income earners paid 95.2 percent of individual income taxes in 2017. The top 10 percent paid 81 percent. The top 0.1 percent paid an astonishing 24.1 percent of taxes.

Because there are far more people in the middle class, there are fewer dollars to share per taxpayer when the savings from a tax cut are divvied up. The nonpartisan Joint Committee of Taxation estimates that 572,000 taxpayers will file returns with an income category of more than $1 million, compared with more than 27 million in the $50,000 to $75,000 category and almost 70 million in the under-$50,000 category.


In terms of just individual tax cuts — which we should consider given that Biden was addressing union workers and other campaign supporters — the Tax Policy Center found 65 percent of taxpayers would get tax cuts. In the $50,000 to $75,000 range, 82 percent would get tax cuts, with people who got a tax cut ending up with an average of almost $1,000.

Kessler said he reached out to the Biden campaign about the  false claim, prompting them to send him several links about how "by 2027, middle-class taxes would rise under the tax law." He went on to say other Democrats are being more cautious by adding phrases like "in the long run" or "by the end of the decade" when discussing the data, but he said Biden was incorrectly claiming, "only the wealthy and corporations ended up with tax cuts in 2018."

"As he told the Teamsters Local 249 yesterday, Joe Biden is committed to reversing the Republican tax plan because it is overwhelmingly a giveaway to the wealthy and big corporations that hard-working families can’t afford," said Biden's spokesman Andrew Bates. "Forty percent of Americans can’t withstand a $400 emergency and 60 percent of our largest corporations are paying no taxes at all, which is exactly why Joe Biden is fighting to rebuild the middle class and ensure that we reward work — not just wealth."

"This is a good example of how precise words and context matter in a fact check. We've previously given Democrats and Republicans Two Pinocchios for failing to make clear whether they are talking about the long-term or short-term tax-cut estimates for the law," Kessler wrote. "But Biden, with his loose language, ends up in the Four-Pinocchio territory. He asserts that no Americans but those at the top received any tax cut in 2018, which is clearly false."

"Most Americans received a tax cut. They may not have noticed it, but that's no excuse for saying they never got one," Kessler added.