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McGinty and Toomey pledge to help middle class — but who does that include?

WASHINGTON -- If you're running for public offices, chances are you've promised to help the middle class.

But who, exactly, fits into this much-discussed but vaguely defined category of American?

In Pennsylvania, Democrat Katie McGinty, who has built her U.S. Senate campaign around promises to help the middle class, gave a wide-ranging answer Wednesday that included lifestyle traits (being able to take a week's vacation at the shore, save for retirement, send your kids to college) as well as an annual income range of $50,000 to $250,000.

Asked by reporters if that meant she would oppose any tax increases on people earning less than $250,000 a year, McGinty wasn't firm, at least at first.

"I'm talking about tax cuts - that's where my focus is," she said.

Asked then if she would rule out tax increases for anyone earning between $50,000 and $250,000, McGinty said, "I have been proposing tax cuts - that's where my focus is. I think that working people in the middle class need a break, that's what my whole campaign is about."

Questioned a third time by reporters, she said: "I don't have any interest in tax increases on middle class families."

Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, meanwhile, didn't offer his own definition when asked at the Capitol.

McGinty and Toomey have sparred for several days over taxes and who is really looking out for middle-class Pennsylvanians -- with neither defining who falls into the category.

Toomey, asked about who fits his image of middle class, instead attacked McGinty for her support of Gov. Wolf's proposed tax increases when she was the governor's chief of staff.

"For the purpose of this discussion, you don't have to define it, because Katie McGinty was the big champion for Tom Wolf's tax increase that would hit every single working Pennsylvanian," Toomey said, referring to a budget proposal that would have raised both sales and income taxes to help pay for a massive property tax cut.

Asked if there is an income level below which he would oppose any tax increases, Toomey again blasted Wolf's budget. A campaign spokesman later pointed to $250,000 as a reasonable cut off for defining who fits the middle class, saying Hillary Clinton had cited that figure.

McGinty spokesman Sean Coit wrote in an e-mail Wednesday that she "does not support raising taxes on the middle class" and that programs she supports can be paid for by closing corporate tax loopholes and "ensuring that millionaires and billionaires finally pay their fair share."

McGinty accused Toomey of being the one who would increase the burden on working families  by supporting "budgets that would jack up taxes for middle class families, and opposing initiatives that would give people a break" on costs for college, child care and health care.

Her campaign points to Toomey's votes for Republican budget proposals that included significant tax cuts for high-income earners. Analyses by Democrats and liberal groups argue that the result would be tax hikes on the middle class -- though fact-checkers and neutral analysts have said that result is not assured nor spelled out in the GOP plans. (The budget proposals, never enacted, largely left out the details of how Republicans would pay for their tax cuts).

Toomey's camp, meanwhile, says that while running for Senate McGinty has already backed at least two tax increases that would hit the middle class. She has endorsed a Democratic bill that would fund a 12 days of paid family leave with a 0.2 percent payroll tax -- which the liberal Center for American Progress estimates would take $2 a week from the average worker's paycheck. And McGinty said in an interview last month that it "makes sense" to raise the cap on income taxed for Social Security to $250,000, up from the current limit of $118,500, in order to increase Social Security benefits and extend the program's solvency.

McGinty's spokesman has said the funding proposals in the bill and that she cited in the interview are just options.

A longtime fiscal hawk, Toomey has long favored lowering taxes across the board. In his own fiscal year 2013 budget proposal, the Republican called for cutting individual income taxes at every level and scaling back tax breaks, but protecting those used by lower- and middle-income families.

The issue of who fits into the "middle class" -- and who can afford to pay more in taxes -- arises regularly in policy debates. When the so-called fiscal cliff crisis hit in 2012, taxes rose on couples earning $450,000 and up -- a compromise that Toomey supported as the best possible deal at the time.

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