A remarkable flip from the sayings of Candidate Bush: Mitt Romney has said some unfortunate things, on tape, about the 47 percent.
We’re less sure than others may be about the political effects of these comments. On the merits, David Brooks does an excellent job in this morning's column explaining how foolish these comments were.
Romney complained about an actual fact: 46.4 percent of American households currently pay no federal income tax. As Brooks notes, many of these “households” are actually senior citizens. (We believe that’s more than half the total.) Many of the other households in question pay large amounts of federal payroll taxes.
Alas! Many people don’t understand the difference between income taxes and payroll taxes. On last evening’s Last Word, Kornacki described one result of this confusion:
KORNACKI (9/17/12): There was a movement on the right last year to really build resentment against, you know, the 47 percent, this “We are the 53 percent” movement. And they were all of these sorts of conservative people posting messages and telling their story how they were the makers, you know, they produce goods. They work their jobs. And one of the things you found out is these people would post their stories and they weren’t even aware of it, but they were actually part of the 47 percent. They would tell their stories and talk about what their income level is and what kind of work they do and you could run the numbers and you could see they actually don’t pay federal income tax either they’re just not aware of it.We can’t vouch for the accuracy of that claim, but it makes perfect sense. In this, as in all other debates, tremendous confusion lies at the heart of our hapless political discourse.
For our money, professional liberals overdid the outrage on last evening’s TV shows. We're not sure how voters may react to the statements made by Romney. On the bright side, the fury and outrage made us liberals feel extremely good.
On MSNBC, this was at least the three hundredth time Candidate Romney had lost the election. Somehow, he's still just a few points behind!
Whatever! For ourselves, our minds drifted back to what Candidate Bush used to say.
Today, Romney stirs anger against the moochers who pay no federal income tax. All during Campaign 2000, Candidate Bush took a completely different approach to the topic.
Back then, Bush boasted about the millions of families he would remove from the income tax rolls! Today, those families pay no federal income tax—and Romney attacks them as parasites!
Conservative fury has come a long way! On December 1, 1999, Candidate Bush unveiled his now-famous tax cut proposal. What follows is part of what he said.
Be sure to note the pledge Bush advanced in the last paragraph we have posted. Under his plan, six million additional families would "pay no income tax at all!"
BUSH (12/1/99): Let’s start where the need is greatest: with social mobility for hard-working American families. We need a tax system that makes it easier, not harder, to join the ranks of the middle class. Half the revenue cost of my income tax cuts goes to financing two changes which I believe are vital for encouraging upward mobility.Candidate Bush boasted about the millions of families he would remove from the income tax rolls. He said he would "completely eliminate taxes [sic] for a four-person family earning $35,000."
I propose we cut the current 15 percent tax bracket by a third—to a 10 percent rate—for the first $12,000 of taxable income for married couples...
I also plan to double the child credit to $1,000. This, combined with lower tax rates, can completely eliminate taxes for a four-person family earning $35,000—a tax cut of over $1500. Many two-income families making $50,000 a year will see their income taxes cut by half.
Single parents will also see their taxes cut drastically. Today, a single parent with one child earning $25,000 per year pays almost $1500 in income taxes. I will cut that by over two-thirds—over $1000.
It is not just the amount of taxes that matters, it's also what the economists call a taxpayer's marginal rate: the taxes we pay on every extra dollar we earn. That rate determines the incentives to work.
Under current tax law, for example, a single waitress supporting two children on an income of $22,000 faces a higher marginal tax rate than a lawyer making $220,000. As she moves up, the federal government starts taxing her income at the same time it is reducing her Earned Income Credit benefit. She can work overtime. She can earn a raise. Yet when all taxes are considered, half of her new earnings are taken away. In other words, the hardest hours of labor are taxed at the highest rates.
Under my plan, she will pay no income tax at all! And she will be joined by 6 million other low and moderate income, working families, who will be removed from the tax rolls entirely. That is one of every five families in America with children.
Today, Candidate Romney complains about those people!
That statement by Candidate Bush was not an anomaly. In the Washington Post and the New York Times, it was clear that Bush’s aides had highlighted this part of the tax cut proposal in the days before Bush’s speech. And Candidate Bush never stopped citing the millions of families he would remove from the [income] tax rolls.
Here he is in his first debate with Candidate Gore, making his point even as he misstates the facts several ways:
BUSH (10/3/00): The man's practicing fuzzy math again. There's differences!Bush meant to say that six million additional families would pay no income tax at all. Or maybe he wanted to gain from the confusion regarding that latter distinction, since (unless we're mistaken on short notice) most of those families would still be paying federal payroll taxes.
He says he's going to give you tax cuts. Fifty million of you won't receive it! He said in his speech he wants to make sure the right people get tax relief. That's not the role of a president to decide right and wrong. Everybody who pays taxes ought to get tax relief. After my plan is in place, the wealthiest American will pay a higher percentage of taxes than they do today, and the poorest of Americans—six million families, seven million people—won't pay any tax at all.
It is a huge difference. It's the difference between big, exploding federal government that wants to think on your behalf and a plan that meets priorities and liberates working people to be able to make decisions on your own.
(Beyond that, no: Those additional families wouldn’t be the poorest of Americans. Jim Lehrer let all this shit go.)
The second debate dealt with foreign affairs. In the third and final debate, Candidate Bush stated his point a bit more precisely:
BUSH (10/17/00): We just have a different philosophy. Let me talk about tax relief.In this instance, Bush included the word “additional.” He still said that those additional families would “pay no taxes” at all.
If you pay taxes, you ought to get tax relief. The vice president believes that only the right people ought to get tax relief. I don't think that's the role of the president to pick, “You're right” and “You're not right.” I think if you're going to have tax relief, everybody ought to get it. And, therefore, wealthy people are going to get it. But the top one percent will end up paying one-third of the taxes in America and they get one-fifth of the benefits. And that's because we structured the plan so that six million additional American families pay no taxes. If you're a family of four making $50,000 in Missouri, you get a 50 percent cut in your federal income taxes. What I've done is set priorities and funded them.
Aside from the issue of payroll taxes, there was another mini-scam involved in this long-standing boast. Many of those six million families were paying a very small amount of federal income taxes. They would be removed from the income tax rolls—but this would save them few dollars.
Most voters didn’t understand this. Based on his permissive conduct, neither did slumbering Lehrer.
Whatever! Our point this morning is different from that. The focus of conservative anger has shifted in the past twelve years.
Bush complained about big government. In his view, it was a good thing when millions of families paid no income tax.
By today, the logic has flipped. Bush removed millions of families from those rolls. Today, that makes them moochers.
This debate is still marked by total confusion. That said, the complaint has completely changed.
In Campaign 2000, big government was the target. Today, the target is the millions of families freed from big government's yoke.