Jeb Bush's tax cut plan would cost the government $3.4 trillion in lost revenue, with 53 percent of the benefits going to the richest 1 percent of the population. The richest 1 percent casts more than 1 percent of the votes, but a lot less than 50 percent of the votes. So there's a bit of a political problem here. Bush's strategy, emulating his brother, is to try to mislead people about what's going on.
But Fox News's Chris Wallace did a pretty good job Sunday of pressing Bush on the question of why a tax plan tilted to the wealthy is a good idea. Rather than pointing to the 53 percent fact, Wallace inquired about the fact that a middle-class family will see a 2.9 percent increase in after-tax income, while a rich family will see an 11.6 percent increase. Bush insists that it's nevertheless a tax cut for the middle class.
But Wallace presses him, insisting, "Forgive me, sir, but 2.9 seems like it’s less than 11.6," forcing Bush into this revealing answer: "Tax cuts for everybody is going to generate a lot more for people who are paying more" — i.e. for the top 1 percent of the population — "I mean, that’s just the way it is."
Because this is Jeb Bush speaking about taxes, he is saying something that isn't true. Consider the basic tax bracket table for a single filer (the same general considerations apply to other kinds of households, but the details differ), and you can see what Bush is getting wrong:
Now imagine that you cut that 10 percent rate to, say, zero percent.
What would happen is that every single person with a taxable income of at least $9,225 would pay $922.50 less in taxes than they currently do. Now of course some people have less than $9,225 in taxable income, so they would get a smaller tax cut. But middle-class families and rich families would get the exact same cut — an extra $76 a month that rich people probably wouldn't notice but that more strapped families might find very helpful.
That would be, in other words, "a tax cut for everybody" that does not "generate a lot more for people who are paying more."
The reason Bush's tax cut is so tilted toward rich people isn't that he wants to cut taxes for everybody, it's that he wants to cut tax rates at all brackets. That means he cuts the rates that everyone pays, and he cuts the rates that middle-class and rich people both pay, but then he also adds on extra bonus rate cuts that exclusively benefit high-income households. A single person earning $500,000 a year gets a bigger tax cut than someone earning $50,000, and someone earning $5 million gets an even bigger one. That's how you generate a distribution like the one Bush has.
Bush is right that this is not an idiosyncratic feature of his plan. But he's wrong to say that it's a feature of rich people paying a disproportionate share of the taxes. Instead, it's a straightforward consequence of the Republican Party's commitment to the idea of across-the-board tax cuts. If you want to cut taxes for everyone without giving away the store to the top 1 percent, it's easy — just slash the bottom rate.