Mitt Romney’s words, delivered to a select audience at the home of private equity trader Mark Leder, have been widely circulated. Romney’ contention, that 47% of Americans feel entitled to food, shelter, even health care, provided by the federal
government, is based on fact. 47% of Americans do not pay federal income taxes. Romney even went so far as two write off those Americans politically,
and contend they cannot care for themselves: “I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” However, we need to look more closely at Romney’s claim, what he overlooks in making it, the assumptions he makes about almost half of the nation he would lead, and how
his comment is a symptom of the GOP’s continuing class war and evolution into an extremist party.
Romney’s evidence is true: 47% of Americans pay no federal
income tax. This has been a growing concern on the American right, which fears that half of us aren’t paying our share, and are “taking” from the “productive” citizens who are compelled to “give,” unwillingly, to support an ungrateful dependent class. However, as Ezra Klein ably argues in his Washington Post blog, Romney and his conservative colleagues overlook other facts. FICA and Medicare deductions are taken from every paycheck, so the division of “givers” and “takers” is mendacious, and many of the 47% that Romney has written off politically pay a higher percentage of their incomes in federal taxes than Romney himself: “For what it’s worth, this division of “makers” and “takers” isn’t true. Among the Americans who paid no federal income taxes in 2011, 61 percent paid payroll taxes — which means they have jobs and, when you account for both sides of the payroll tax, they paid 15.3 percent of their income in taxes, which is higher than the 13.9 percent that Romney paid. Another 22 percent were elderly.”
Once we take that closer look at federal taxes, the situation is not nearly as alarming as the Republicans would have us believe. Some 28% of taxpayers are employed, pay FICA and Medicare deductions, but do not earn enough income to pay federal income tax. Another 10.3% are elderly: are Romney and the GOP in favor of taxing Social Security benefits? Another 6.9% are not elderly, but have
incomes below $20,000 per year. Is the GOP serious about reducing federal deficits by finding ways to tax those folks? Are their plans to reduce federal
expenditures aimed at the working poor or recipients of public assistance?
Klein’s most explosive revelation, however, comes when he looks at when the numbers of citizens who pay no federal income taxes grew most sharply: during the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush administrations. GOP tax policy has produced the situation which figures like Romney present as a dire threat to the stability of the nation. More to the point: has GOP tax policy created a wealthy class of taxpayers who do not shoulder their fair share of the burden, but still expect the public services upon which this society, and their fortunes, depend?
I’ve had many an argument with conservatives who bemoan our “culture of dependency.” But, as David Brooks argued in his cogent essay about Romney’s statement, many of the Americans who are “dependent” on federal benefits are Caucasians with a high school education, the central element of the GOP’s voting strength. Indeed, when you look at the map below of those states with the highest numbers of “dependent” people, they are clustered
in the American Southeast, the regional base of the GOP.
The current iteration of the GOP and American conservatism
has short-circuited any serious discussion of American fiscal policy. Instead of taking a sober look at the growing
numbers of Americans who receive federal benefits, as Brooks wishes they would,
conservatives have chosen to invoke a divisive class war against those
Americans who have been left behind by the serial failures of Reagan, Bush I,
and Bush II economic and fiscal policies.
Indeed, the GOP seems to forget who the real “job creators” are. While wealthy Americans like Romney and Leder sit on some $2 trillion in capital, Americans like you and me continue to pay, not just federal income taxes, FICA, and Medicare, but our property taxes, state and local income taxes, sales taxes, and various excise taxes, as well as fees to register our vehicles, or to hunt and fish. We are the real “job creators,” since our tax dollars pay our emergency medical techs, police and fire fighters, social workers, teachers, road crews, and the millions of other salaries which keep our country going by providing public services we all need and benefit from.
Makes me wonder who the REAL parasites are who contribute nothing to this country.
Link to the full video of Romney’s address from Mother