Much has been made of Romney’s tendency to change his stand on issues depending on his audience and which way the political winds are blowing. But on one issue he has remained absolutely consistent: the so-called entitlement society.
Earlier this month, I explained the terms of the right-wing attack on government programs for the poor, elderly, and disabled, a campaign Romney announced in a December 2011 op-ed piece. It’s a campaign he continued by choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate.
So, it’s no surprise that, during a private reception with wealthy donors this year, Romney described almost half of Americans as “people who pay no income tax” and are “dependent upon government.”
Romney may be consistent (at least on this one issue) but he’s also wrong. As Ezra Klein explains, the Republican division of society into “takers” and “makers” 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.
So 83 percent of those not paying federal income taxes are either working and paying payroll taxes or they’re elderly and Romney is promising to protect their benefits because they’ve earned them. The remainder, by and large, aren’t paying federal income or payroll taxes because they’re unemployed.
We can add to this the irony that, with the decline in corporate income taxes and a series of individual income tax cuts, fewer Americans are paying federal income taxes and rich individuals have ended up shouldering a much higher percentage of federal income-tax revenue.
Klein spells out the implications:
Republicans are arguing that these Americans they have helped free from income taxes have become a dependent and destabilizing “taker” class who want to hike taxes on the rich in order to purchase more social services for themselves. The antidote, as you can see in both Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney’s policy platforms, is to further cut taxes on “job creators” while cutting the social services that these takers depend on. That way, you roll the takers out of what Ryan calls “the hammock” of government and you unleash the makers to create jobs and opportunities.
So notice what happened here: Republicans have become outraged over the predictable effect of tax cuts they passed and are using that outrage as the justification for an agenda that further cuts taxes on the rich and pays for it by cutting social services for the non-rich.
That’s why Romney’s theory here is more than merely impolitic. It’s actually core to his economic agenda.
Even David Brooks has to take his distance from Romney on this one:
as a description of America today, Romney’s comment is a country-club fantasy. It’s what self-satisfied millionaires say to each other. It reinforces every negative view people have about Romney.