Fun With Numbers From the #4 Man in the Senate

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A few days ago, the clue in one of my daily crossword puzzles was “#4 name in Senate seniority.” Hmmm. Five letters. Hatch? He seems like he’s been around long enough that he might be #4. But the last two letters were IN. Maybe Levin? He also seemed like a decent candidate. But no: I was right the first time. I was just stuck in a rut thinking of only last names. The answer was Orrin.

Today, Bob Somerby highlights a peculiar statement from our #4 man in the Senate. He was on Fox last night chatting about the individual mandate and whether it was a penalty or a tax:

Now they’re trying to say, “Well, it’s just really a penalty.” Unfortunately for them, the chief justice and the majority of the members of the Supreme Court held that it is a tax. And therefore, that means that, well, if you talk about a tax, that means about 77 percent of people earning less than $120,000 a year are going to have to pay it. And by the way, 10 percent of the people earning less than $23,000 a year, the poverty level, have to pay that tax as well. It’s going to be a devastating thing for those not earning a lot of money in our society.

WTF? I can’t even fathom what he’s talking about here. Does anyone know? I’m almost afraid to ask, because the answer always turns out to be some kind of meme circulating in Rush/Fox/tea party land that I’ve been blissfully unaware of, but curiosity has gotten the better of me. Who makes up this vast crowd that’s supposedly going to feel the icy grip of the IRS when the mandate goes into effect?

UPDATE: I think we have an answer. It comes from a piece written by Keith Hennessey at Real Clear Politics a few days ago. Hennessey quotes a CBO report projecting that in 2016 there will be 3.9 million people who will be both uninsured and have to pay the tax:

CBO says that under this law in 2016 there will be 400,000 people below the poverty line who will be uninsured and pay the tax….There will, in 2016, be three million people with incomes less than $59,000 (singles) or $120,000 (families of four) who will be uninsured and have to pay the tax. These three million people are not rich, they will be uninsured, and they will be required to pay higher taxes.

400,000 is 10% of 3.9 million, and three million is 77% of 3.9 million. So the correct talking point is that of the people paying the penalty, 10% will be under the poverty level and 77% will be middle class. Hatch just bollixed it up. Thanks to Gadolphus and JohnBroughton for clearing this up in comments.

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