Their average federal income tax rate was 17 percent, down from 26 percent in 1992. That makes it sound as if the super rich are getting away with something, but average tax rates for all taxpayers fell from 9.9 percent to 9.3 percent during that time.
The top tax rate is 35 percent, but the tax code has become packed with exceptions - a $1,000 per child tax credit and deductions for mortgage interest, charitable giving and state and local income, sales and real estate taxes.
The Internal Revenue Service said together all those exemptions, deductions and credits come to about $8,000 per taxpayer for a total of $1.1 trillion, about the size of the federal government's recent annual deficits.
"Urban myth," especially has propounded by Capitol Hill Democrats, is that most of the so-called rich pay little or nothing in income taxes, and that those who do pay don't pay as much as they should pay.
But according to the Tax Policy Center, a Washington think tank, 45 percent of households - mostly those on the low end of the economic scale - will pay no federal income taxes at all for 2010. Indeed, the federal government will actually send $55 billion to 25.7 million low-income families thanks to the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Income taxes are not even the biggest tax load for most Americans. Payroll taxes - paycheck deductions for Social Security and Medicare - are. The Tax Policy Center says the overwhelming majority of Americans - 94 percent of those earning less than $100,000 - pay more in payroll taxes than in income taxes. For most workers, the total payroll tax rate is 15.3 percent.
House Republicans propose to eliminate many of the deductions and credits and in return lower the top tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. But each deduction and credit has zealous defenders in Congress, and many of these same Republicans see closing loopholes as backdoor tax increases.
President Barack Obama would raise taxes by $1 trillion over the next 12 years, largely by increasing the tax rate for high-income families, but this is a battle he has lost once already.
The bottom line is that proverbial "light at the end of the tunnel" is nowhere in sight for this year's tax-and-budget "train wreck."