Write to the Point: There's more to Mitt Romney's controversial 47 percent comment than meets the eye
September 27, 2012
By JOHN McCALLUM
There is some light to be shined on Mitt Romney's comments about 47 percent of Americans before those comments are consigned to the historical dustbin.
In surreptitiously recorded remarks at a May $50,000-a-plate fundraiser obtained and published by Mother Jones magazine last week the Republican presidential candidate claimed 47 percent of Americans don't pay income taxes, support President Barack Obama and are “dependent upon government, who believe 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, that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them.”
Romney's right on a couple of points. In a 2011 study the Tax Policy Center concluded 47 percent of Americans, actually 46.4, did not pay federal income taxes. But there's a lot we know about those people from that study.
Of those 76 million plus households, 60 percent paid federal payroll taxes supporting Medicare and Social Security, as well as federal excise taxes, state and local taxes and property and income taxes. More than 38 million households didn't earn enough money last year to have any federal income tax liability and the rest were mostly low- to moderate-income families benefiting from specific tax deductions.
“Those provisions include the exclusion of some Social Security benefits from taxable income, the tax credit and extra standard deductions for the elderly, and the child, earned income and child care tax credit that primarily help low-income workers with children,” Tax Policy Center scholar Roberton Williams wrote in 2011.
In other words, almost half of those American households are too poor to pay or have enough exemptions keeping them from paying federal income taxes. They're not freeloading welfare recipients as some suggest.
Second is Romney's claim all 47 percent support Obama. Politicfact.com analyzed the center's data with a recent CBS News/New York Times poll and found that of households with incomes of $50,000 or less, 68 percent paid no federal income tax with Obama leading in this group 58 percent to 37 percent.
They also found that households with incomes of $50,000-$100,000, 11 percent owed no federal income tax. Romney leads in this group 50-47 percent, and of households above $100,000, 2 percent paid no federal income tax, Romney leading here 57-41 percent. Also, among senior citizens, a group the poll found supports Romney 53-38 percent, 17 million paid no federal income tax in 2011 due to exemptions.
Finally, the Tax Foundation looked at states with the highest percentages of non-income-tax paying residents and found states with the highest rates “are mostly ones that Romney has in the bag – Texas, Idaho, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina” while several states with the lowest rates are with Obama: Minnesota, Maryland and Massachusetts.
So what we see is many millions of Americans paying federal income taxes will vote for President Obama while many millions of Americans paying no federal income taxes will vote for Romney.
Finally, the remarks provide us with a true insight into Romney's belief system, and how he intends to govern the country should he win election. When the video became public Romney said he could have put his remarks more “elegantly,” but I doubt that. He was talking to a private, intimate gathering of his own kind, people who paid as much for a plate of food as 50.1 percent of Americans make in a year.
In Romney's view of the world basic human needs like food, shelter and health aren't natural rights, they're earned rights.
The Declaration of Independence asserts there are “unalienable” rights given to us by our “Creator” of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” To me it's difficult to see how any of these can be pursued without mechanisms for fulfilling these basic human needs, and one of those mechanisms is government – government creating a level playing field for all to succeed and extending assistance helping those knocked down to get back into the game.
That government is disappearing, thanks to the lobbying work of groups promoting the general welfare of corporations – the $50,000-a-plate gang who think they're entitled to make a profit – over that of individuals.
We're victims alright. And maybe someday we'll see the light.