Donna Brazille: Myth making with the American people
GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney got a fact right: 47 percent of Americans do not pay income taxes. Like the proverbial broken clock, he’s entitled to be right once or twice a day.
But Romney wasn’t interested in the facts about taxes. He wanted to make myth while the mything was good.
Characterizing President Obama’s supporters, Romney said, “There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”
That’s a stale, withered myth that Republicans trot out with makeup and lipstick. The next statement revealed Romney’s own personal beliefs: “My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
“Those people” don’t need Romney — not to convince them and not to condescend to them.
“Those people” include my parents, and if I sound miffed at Romney’s myth — that’s not far enough. I’m deeply offended.
Let me tell you about my parents’ work ethic. I watched my parents work two and three jobs to make ends meet. I rarely saw them after they left for work. Weekends were just the same. They got up, cooked our breakfast, left it on the stove and went out to catch the early bus. In my mother’s case, she left to get Mrs. Hilbert’s kids up and fix their breakfast, and my Dad had to get to the school to get the lights on, the heater or AC running, and prepare for the kids to come to school.
On weekends, they served parties or catered, cleaned yards, renovated homes or cut grass. On Sundays, we gathered for our only meal together. My favorite memory was seeing them happy when we all went off to church.
Poor people are highly motivated. The working class and the struggling middle class are highly motivated. Look at me — I work four jobs, having patterned myself after my parents.
It’s Romney and his privileged-class cronies who are dependent on a victim mentality: “I’m being attacked because I’m rich.”
No, Mr. Romney, you’re being chastised — even by conservatives — because you just don’t get it. William Kristol, conservative columnist and editor, called your comments “stupid” and “arrogant.” Republican Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, who spoke for you at the Republican convention, flatly rejected your remarks publicly. North Carolina Republican congressional candidate Mark Meadows went on TV to pointedly say that unlike Romney, he intended to serve all the people.
Romney may not care about facts, but we should. In fact, Romney’s “47 percent” who don’t pay taxes? It’s actually closer to 46 percent. (So I’ll take back my first sentence.) Here’s a look at the 46 percent, as compiled by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center:
— 61 percent pays payroll taxes.
— 22 percent of non-payers are seniors.
— 79 percent earns less than $30,000 a year.
— 1 percent falls into the “other” category, which includes the very wealthy.
Forty-six percent of Americans do not pay income tax, but 82 percent of Americans do pay taxes of either the income or payroll variety.
Here are some other facts:
Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush pushed for reform that exempted low-income people from paying income taxes. Washington Post economic columnist Ezra Klein points out that no-income-tax reform helps the poor (the 7 percent of non-elderly Americans who earn under $20,000) to get off welfare.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (a group House Speaker John Boehner invited to address tea party members in the Republican caucus) found that “When all federal, state, and local taxes are taken into account, the bottom fifth of households pays about 16 percent of their incomes in taxes, on average. The second-poorest fifth pays about 21 percent.”
What about the “other” 1 percent who pay no income taxes? Republican Bruce Bartlett served as a senior policy adviser in both the Reagan and Bush administrations and was on the staffs of Jack Kemp and Ron Paul. He points out that there are 3,000 Americans with incomes above $2.2 million who pay no income taxes by using the same deductions that are allotted to the poor. Further, there are 24,000 households with incomes between half a million dollars and $2.2 million who have no tax liability, and 78,000 with incomes from $211,000 to half a million who pay no taxes.
As Bartlett concludes: “Perhaps the right and left can at least agree that it is unseemly for those in the top 1 percent of income distribution, with incomes at least 10 times the median income, to pay no federal income taxes. It’s not socialism to ask them to pay something.”
Ironically, just-getting-by working folk who pay no income tax still pay a higher percentage of taxes than Mitt Romney paid in income tax. And they contribute more to running the government than Romney’s wealthy friends, for whom he wants another tax break.
DONNA BRAZILE is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News, and a contributing columnist to Ms. Magazine and O, the Oprah Magazine.