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FactCheck Mailbag, Week of March 23-March 29

This week, readers sent us comments about the middle class, the Congressional Budget Office and the value of context.

In the FactCheck Mailbag, we feature some of the e-mail we receive. Readers can send comments to editor@factcheck.org. Letters may be edited for length.

Middle-Class, Defined

Your article on health care truth and whoppers was very informative ["A Final Weekend of Whoppers," March 19]. However I was struck by your not knowing what "middle class" really means or how it’s defined — especially since those of us with that label have known all along how it is defined. Here is my layperson’s view:

Anyone whose income is closely above the poverty line (and hopefully employed) is considered to be in the low-middle class category, $12,000-$27,000 (we call it the working poor, ’cause that kind of money isn’t going to take us very far these days).

Anyone whose income is in the $26,000-$58,000 range would be in the middle-middle class category.

Anyone whose income is in the $59,000-$121,000 range would be in the middle to high-middle class category.

These figures are not scientifically statistical but merely my own musings, since I have been living through each category much of my life. And… there are, of course, other factors involved, such as number of dependents in a family, demographics and geographics. I’m far from a scientist, but you get the picture don’t you?

Rona Isaacs
Tamarac, Fla.

FactCheck.org responds: Many people have personal definitions for what "middle-class" means to them. But there’s no universal, agreed-upon definition for the term, making it a handy buzzword for politicians who want to appeal to those who consider themselves middle-class — that is, the vast majority of Americans.


Who Are These CBO People, Anyway?

I have been reading and paying attention to the FactCheck website for some time now. It seems that often the "facts" are presented in a limited format however, often without providing context or historical evidence. At times some stories almost appear biased.

An example is the continual use of the term "non-partisan CBO". This term is not factual in and of itself. The fact about the CBO is that the CBO only reports on the data it is presented. If the data presented is flawed or limited, the output of the CBO will also be flawed or limited. Also, the CBO reports to the Speaker of the House. Both parties have and continue to use the CBO to their own benefit. It seems that in the spirit of presenting facts to people, that FactCheck should clarify details such as these.

Another relevant issue with CBO "facts" is that they do not take into consideration behavior changes. One can go back in history and see how behavior changes each time certain taxes are raised or lowered for instance. I believe that it would be more beneficial for FactCheck to report on these types of "facts" as something other than "facts." They are more akin to "true for the moment until something changes."

Scott Barnes
Winter Park, Fla.

I am looking for information about the CBO (Congressional Budget Office). Who staffs it? How many staff it? Are they all CPAs and/or economists? Are they permanent employees, or do they change with new administrations?

We always hear about the "non-partisan" CBO office, giving the impression that it is objective. But, is it really? "Non-partisan" doesn’t mean "non-biased," it just means something is not directly associated with a political party. I once served on our technically non-partisan local city council, (candidates run as individuals, not party members; their party affiliation does not appear on the ballot) but there was — and still is — plenty of political bias. And since the majority generally share(d) the same political bias of one of the two major parties, you couldn’t say they were "objective" even though they are "non-partisan." Is that the same situation with the CBO?

Carol Hill
Leadville, Colo.

FactCheck.org responds: The Congressional Budget Office has a long history of professionalism and nonpartisan analysis, regardless of which party controls Congress. Its projections are widely cited and its input sought by both sides. More information about CBO, including its panel of economic advisers, can be found on its Web site.

It’s not the case that CBO’s estimates "do not take into consideration behavior changes." For instance, the CBO conclusion that 8 million to 9 million people would lose employer-sponsored insurance under the health care bill, and another 6 million would gain it, was based on a projection of how employers would react to the legislation. Another example: When calculating the effects of a tobacco excise tax, CBO took into account reduced numbers of smokers and the effects that would have on health spending.


A Fan of Context

I can appreciate the concerns of those who worry that FactCheck is favoring one side of an argument. I am very liberal, and proud of it, but I am also a person who cares about facts. I absolutely do not want to base my political arguments on shaky ground.

But facts need a context, otherwise they are just loose marbles rolling around in peoples’ heads. So I do appreciate the comparison of Hastert’s plane expenses with Pelosi’s, and similar stories ["Pelosi’s Party Plane?," March 4]. Hypocrisy is relevant to politics. And I expect FactCheck to continue to use facts to expose it, regardless of the party affiliation attached to a politician’s name. I am sure we can all agree that exposing hypocritical demagogues is ultimately a good thing.

Jacque Greenleaf
Klickitat, Wash.