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Democrats criticized last week’s claim by House Speaker Dennis Hastert that families with two children earning $40,000 a year don’t pay taxes.

During floor debate last Thursday, Hastert, R-Ill., responded to complaints that under a Republican tax proposal people earning $40,000 a year wouldn’t get a very big tax cut.

“Well, folks, if you earn $40,000 a year and have a family of two children, you don’t pay any taxes,” Hastert said. “So you probably, if you don’t pay any taxes, you are not going to get a very big tax cut.”

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Hastert’s comment “demonstrated how out of touch Republicans are with everyday Americans.”

While many such families don’t pay federal income taxes, Democrats said they pay their fair share of taxes to Social Security and Medicare. A family of four making $40,000 pays around $6,000 in payroll taxes, leaving $34,000 to live on before sales, gasoline and property taxes.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says households in the middle fifth of the income spectrum paid an average of 13.6 percent of their income in federal taxes in 2003.

The percentage of income most categories of taxpayers pay in federal taxes is at the lowest level in decades. Yet–despite a large and growing federal budget deficit–Republicans in Congress are pushing for additional tax cuts that would most benefit the wealthy.

Susan Pace Hamill, a University of Alabama law professor who writes on morality and taxes, said in a recent paper that President Bush’s tax policies fall short of justice standards in the Old and New Testaments by benefiting the wealthy, shifting the share of tax burden to middle and lower classes and forcing cuts in safety net programs for the poor.

“To this point, I have been baffled by Republican budget and tax priorities that value millionaires and billionaires above working families, and sink this nation’s budget deeper in debt every year,” James Clyburn, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus said in a statement. “But Speaker Hastert crystallized GOP budget philosophy—working families don’t pay taxes and don’t deserve a tax cut.”

The House finally approved a fiscal 2007 budget early Thursday morning 218-210, but differences with the Senate version may be too great for Congress to reach a final agreement.

House Democrats opposed the bill saying it increases debt that will be passed on to the nation’s children and grandchildren and cuts key programs like homeland security and veterans’ healthcare. It offers a $46 tax cut for those earning $40,000-$50,000 a year, while cutting taxes by those who earn more than $1 million by more than $40,000.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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