If you've been living under a rock this week, you may have missed the political firestorm ignited when a video was released showing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at a fund-raiser among wealthy patrons. Romney didn't realize he was being recorded, thus did not censor his remarks, which included statements like ~
- "There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has the responsibility to take care of them."
- "These are people who pay no income tax. 47 percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect. So he'll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean, that's what they sell every four years. So 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."
A segment on last night's PBS Newshour showed Romney's remarks, and analyzed the sources for his 47 percent figure. It turns out that his assertions are full of omissions and distortions, and that his equating those who pay no income tax with Obama supporters is disingenuous, if not downright vacuous. You can view the Newshour coverage, along with commentary by two non-partisan economists, here. And here is a full transcript of Romney's fund-raising remarks.
It appears that consistently, Romney feels compelled to insert his foot in his mouth so far that he kicks himself in the ass. The GOP establishment (not including the extreme right wing Tea Party fringe) has been engaged in damage control over Romney's public pronouncements for months, and many are distancing themselves from his campaign. He's managed to offend every country he's visited, alienate numerous minority groups here at home, and now summarily dismisses half the American population (whose votes he needs to win) as being tax evaders, social parasites, and irresponsible for their own lives.
All of which fairly drips with irony, since it is the obscenely wealthy who are the true tax evaders, people who (like Romney himself) make their fortunes off the labor of people who work for inadequate wages, then avoid taxes by secreting their wealth in offshore bank accounts. Just what is Romney hiding by adamantly refusing to release his tax returns? Even his own father has urged him to do so.
Back to his hypothetical 47 percent for a moment. As Mother Jones reveals, you may be among the 47 percent if you are ~
- Superwealthy. High earners take advantage of tax loopholes, tax exemptions, tax credits, tax havens, and the means to hire skilled accountants to minimize or eliminate any taxes owed. Case in point ~ Romney qualifies for the 35 percent tax bracket, yet on his 2011 tax return ended up paying only 13 percent in taxes. And that's just on his reportable wealth in the U.S. Add in Swiss and Cayman Islands accounts, and one can only wonder just how much he is hiding. Clearly Romney himself is a member of the 47 percent. Last year 491,000 households with incomes exceeding $100,000 paid no income tax. Of those, 7,000 households earned over $1,000,000.
- Just pretty wealthy. The chasm between the few who are rich and the many who are of moderate to poverty-level income has been widening. The proportion of wealthy Americans who pay no income tax has been growing.
- Working hard. About three-fifths of the 47 percent make less than $20,000 per year, yet those households continue to pay payroll taxes (Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment), as well as state and local income taxes.
- Living in a red state. It is ironic that solidly Republican states, notably the South, include a disproportionate number of those on social welfare and relief programs.
- The lucky beneficiary of Republican tax policies. The Reagan and Bush tax cuts erased many Americans' tax liabilities. The Republican philosophy of cutting taxes while cutting spending is emphatically unrealistic. Government exists to serve and protect the people. This includes military defense, infrastructure, consumer protection, a clean and safe environment, and regulation of those industries (oil, banking, automobile, manufacturing, food to name a few) which have shown themselves incapable of responsible behavior in their pursuit of more and more profit.
- Down on your luck. A growing number of Americans are simply too poor to qualify for paying income taxes ~ including not only the working poor, but the unemployed.
- A senior citizen. The pittance paid to most recipients of Social Security is too small to require paying income taxes.
- In college. Most scholarships and financial aid are not taxable. Those students who work their way through school do pay taxes.
- In a combat zone. Military personnel in combat are exempt from paying income tax.
- A corporation. Yes, nearly 55 percent of large American-owned corporations report zero tax liability ... and corporate income taxes' share of total federal taxes collected has been falling steadily.
The Mother Jones link includes a series of compelling charts, and links to documentation. Bottom line ~ the era of corporate welfare and welfare for the rich must end. It is a hard nut to crack, since so many legislators are controlled by Wall Street. Persuading these legislators that it is in their best interest (re-election) to enact tax reform and election reform laws will be in part a grass-roots effort, meaning that the wealthy establishment has a monumental spending advantage.
The other force capable of change is that body of politicians of conscience and integrity already in office. Lest their voices be stifled, it appears vital to this observer that Barack Obama be re-elected to the presidency, and a Democratic majority be elected to the House and Senate.