"Average families are spending roughly $2,000 more a year on energy costs. ... It's like a $2,000 energy tax in just the last seven years, more than three times what the typical American family received from the Bush tax cuts."
Hillary Clinton on Monday, November 19th, 2007 in a speech in Knoxville, Iowa
Her comparison is too selective
So which had a bigger impact on your wallet? Are you flush from the Bush tax cuts, or did rising energy prices wipe out the fleeting boon?
Sen. Hillary Clinton thinks rising energy prices wiped out your family's tax savings — three times over. Whether she's right or wrong depends on several factors.
"It depends on how much you drive, and how much you earn," said Len Burman, director of the Tax Policy Institute. (He bikes to work.)
Let's start with Clinton's energy number. PolitiFact doesn't know where she got it, since Clinton's camp did not respond to inquiries. But here's what we found.
From 2001 to 2006, "average annual energy and gasoline costs have increased by over $2,300," according to "The Middle-Class Squeeze," a September 2006 congressional committee report prepared for Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Henry Waxman, both California Democrats. The report included the gasoline in your car, oil to heat your home, and fuel for electricity. It also included some tough-to-measure "pass-through" costs, such as higher retail prices because of higher shipping costs.
Going by this report, Clinton's energy number seems reasonable.
Now, for the tax cuts. In 2001, the White House said, "Under the President's tax relief plan, the typical American family of four will be able to keep at least $1,600 more of their own money."
That's not how it necessarily worked out, said Burman. A median-income family held on to $744 in 2006 as a result of the tax cuts, according to a Tax Policy Center analysis.
Well, it happens that $2,300 is three times more than $744.
But PolitiFact finds Clinton's comparison too selective. It appears she's comparing a single year of tax savings (2006) to an escalation in energy prices that took several years.
What happens if you add up each year's tax savings, and then add up each year's change in energy costs? After all, oil and gas prices actually dropped in late 2001 and into 2002.
The answer is, we don't know. To do that kind of a calculation, over so many years, one would have to account for changing tax laws, inflation, income changes, energy use, driving patterns, what people bought, even the weather.
In short, it's not a number that is tracked by the Energy Information Administration or the Tax Policy Center. Maybe the Clinton campaign did all of that, but if so they're not sharing it with us.
We're left with somewhat accurate numbers from Clinton (judging by one report) that tell only part of the story of energy costs vs. tax savings. At our generous best, we can only give her a Half True.
Published: Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.
Sources:Energy Information Administration, Weekly Retail Gasoline and Diesel Prices.
Interview with Jonathan Cogan, energy information specialist at the Energy Information Administration, December 2007
U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, The Middle-Class Squeeze, September 2006
Interview with Len Burman, director of the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution, Dec. 31, 2007
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