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Commentary: Heitkamp should apologize for tax reform tweet

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp has been spreading false information about Republican-backed efforts to reform the tax bill — information that was widely disseminated and reported on despite its inaccuracy — and it's time for her to acknowledge it and apologize.

"North Dakotans deserve a tax bill that puts money back in their pockets — but the Republican bill would raise their taxes to the tune of $10,000 by 2027," Heitkamp posted on Twitter last week. "That's not something hard-working families can afford!"

The tweeting is part of Heitkamp's campaign to defend her party-line vote against tax reform, a campaign which has also included rhetoric from allies like her 2000 running mate Aaron Krauter (himself a likely candidate for the Democrats in 2018).

The problem is this claim by Heitkamp, and repeated by her various mouthpieces, is absolutely and unequivocally false.

That's not a question of ideology or politics. It's simple math.

Heitkamp based her numbers on a report from the Institute on Tax and Economic Policy, a think tank based in Washington D.C.

The ITEP report said North Dakotans, collectively, would pay $9.9 million more in 2027 (and only if the tax cuts aren't extended) — not that individual North Dakotans would see a $10,000 per year tax hike.

Heitkamp, after a lifetime spent in politics, is a very wealthy woman. But is she really so out of touch with the fiscal realities of average North Dakotans that she thought these figures were reasonable when she sent them out to social media?

How many North Dakotans even have an income tax liability that's $10,000 per year?

After I wrote about Heitkamp's error on SayAnythingBlog.com, her tweet quietly disappeared. Her press releases sent out on the tax reform issue were edited to remove the bogus information.

At least one reporter who used Heitkamp's figures also had to issue a correction.

"I didn't adequately double-check the analysis Heitkamp's office cited," my colleague, Forum News Service reporter John Hageman, posted on Twitter. "That's on me."

Except, it's not really on Hageman. Heitkamp made a serious error and mislead the public about a major piece of public policy. She shouldn't get to delete tweets in the dark of night and pretend as though it didn't happen.

Heitkamp is facing a tough re-election battle in 2018, and her vote against tax reform backed by Trump and Republicans isn't going to play well in a state that's full of Republican Trump voters. So I understand her urgent need to defend the vote.

But she should be honest about it.

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