A fair share

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was asked recently about why it’s wrong to ask the wealthy to sacrifice. “Come on,” he said. “The top 1% paid 38% of income taxes in America. How much more do you want them to pay?” On CNN yesterday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told CNN something similar.

Perhaps now would be a good time to clarify matters. Is Boehner right that the top 1% pays 38% of income taxes? Actually, yes, that’s true, but it’s a lousy standard of measurement.

The problem with the talking point is all of the information it leaves out. The Washington Post ran a good “Reality Check” item the other day, noting that while the wealthiest of the wealthy pay 38% of income taxes, they’ve also seen their incomes soar in recent decades, while everyone else’s incomes have been stagnant.

Just as important, while these very Americans are paying a larger percentage of the nation’s overall income taxes, they’re also paying a smaller share of their personal income in income taxes.

It’s the kind of detail interviewers might want to keep in mind the next time a Republican guest relies on the talking point.