I’ve been stewing for months now over this issue of whether half the country does or doesn’t pay income taxes. A few weeks ago, my old Senate colleague “Mac,” emailed me in complete frustration over this debate. We went back and forth and both agreed that there needed to be a simpler way of explaining the “taxing” of America. So I’ve been trying desperately to find the best way to write about this when lo and behold, Governor Romney’s recent statements about the American taxpayer came to light and lit a fire underneath my, well, you get the point.
The basics of taxes are simple: while most workers pay payroll taxes (up to a certain percentage of their salary), not all Americans pay net taxes. Almost all Americans pay income taxes throughout the year but when it comes to that dreaded April filing deadline, nearly half the country qualifies for deductions or exemptions that negate their income tax liability. So while they pay their taxes upfront (check your paystub, you’ll find them), most Americans get refunds.
This presidential campaign seems to be a philosophical war between the “have’s” and the “have nots.” It was less than a year ago the country was abuzz over the 99% vs. the 1%. The GOP was decrying class warfare and the Democrats were calling the GOP cold-hearted and mean. I, for one, was desperately trying to tune it all out. Until today.
Today, my friend David Corn, Washington Bureau Chief at Mother Jones, reported that Governor Romney has been caught saying he didn’t care about the 4 7% of Americans who don’t pay taxes. I’m unnerved by this video but not because he said “half the country doesn’t pay taxes.” My problem with this video is that Romney has written off half the country. He makes it clear, pointedly clear, that this 47% of Americans aren’t going to vote for him, that they’ll never vote for him.
This isn’t a smart move, especially from a politician. This isn’t a smart move from a man who most likely pays NO payroll taxes because he doesn’t have earned income (while just about every other working American does). This isn’t a smart move from a man who admittedly pays only 13% in income taxes on investments (when the top rate on “work” is 35%). Simply put, what Governor Romney has said is offensive and I frankly don’t think he can recover from it.
The reason this “revelation” is so shocking is because it’s finally crystallized that Governor Romney has no clue who his audience even is. The smart folks over at The Tax Foundation have published a ton of great data but this map shows precisely where that 47% of Americans Romney thinks are freeloaders live.
The states with the highest number of “freeloaders” are in red. Only one of them, New Mexico, seems to be in play for President Obama. All the rest are solid GOP states. Solid GOP states that Governor Romney seems to think are freeloaders, are slackers, are living off the government, are “entitled,” to use his exact words.
This is frustrating for me because I don’t live in a world where success is castigated or looked down upon nor do I live in a world where Americans who need a helping hand are government leeches. I, for one, applaud success. What frustrates me here is the hypocrisy coming from candidate Romney. In a closed-door fundraiser, he berates the very voters that love him (see the red states above). He hides his tax returns yet tells us that he pays 13% and demands years of tax returns from his Vice Presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (WI). What’s worse, that he won’t show his returns, that he pays on average less than most Americans pay in taxes, or that he holds his running mate to a different standard than he does himself? This is insulting.
It just seems that Governor Romney seems to be playing by a different set of rules than most Americans. This double-standard is what made “Mac” so upset and should make most Americans upset. For me, it’s simply insulting.