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White House using fake numbers in payroll tax fight

Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

The White House is manipulating numbers to boost the emotional impact of its allegation that Republican legislators are denying a $40 per paycheck tax cut for 160 million American workers.

According to the Census Bureau, the U.S. economy supports only 131.7 million American workers — not 160 million. That total is only slightly up from last November’s total of 130.3 million workers, because of the stalled economy.

Still, White House officials continue to push the 160 million number.

“We’ve been doing everything we can to ensure that 160 million working Americans aren’t hit with a holiday tax increase,” President Barack Obama said Dec. 22 at a White House press event intended to pressure the GOP into signing the Senate’s compromise deal on taxes and spending for 2012.

Also, according to White House spokesman Jay Carney, the temporary rollback of Social Security tax is worth about $1,000 a year. That means about $20 a week to the average worker, not the $40 per week the White House commonly cites.

On Thursday, Obama repeated the $1,000 estimate, saying “if you’re a family making about $50,000 a year, this is a tax cut that amounts to about $1,000 a year”

But he also repeated the $40-per-week misdirection on Thursday, saying thousands of people have responded to a White House request for people to describe “what would it be like to lose $40 out of your paycheck every week.”

The White House website is streaming many of those Twitter-style responses, many of which also portray the $40 as a weekly gain.

“#40 dollars a week is the cost of my prescriptions; without these medications I would die from a stroke or heart attack.”

“$40 buys a week’s worth of the nutrient drink that my 98-year-old mother virtually survives on.”

“#40 dollars pays for over a week of groceries, fresh fruits, veggies, dairy, whole wheat bread.”

“#40 dollars is half of my grocery budget for the week for my family.”

Many in the media have amplified the misleading $40-per-week soundbite. “Lawmakers were deadlocked Wednesday over continuing the program, which is attached to legislation that would extend a payroll tax cut of up to $40 per week for workers,” the Associated Press reported on Thursday.

“In several hours [on] Tuesday, 10,000 Obama supporters had responded to an e-mail from senior adviser David Plouffe asking what $40 per week, about what the payroll tax cut is worth, would mean to them, according to a White House official,” National Journal reported Dec. 20.

Carney has been careful not to describe the $40 as a weekly gain. “We’re worried about individual families who need that extra money, an average of $40 a paycheck. … That adds up to about a thousand bucks for the year,” he said on Wednesday.

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