Republicans have finally found a group they think deserves a tax hike: People who don’t make enough money to pay income taxes.
At the recent GOP debate, all the 2012 presidential hopefuls were unanimous in claiming they would reject a deficit-reduction deal if it contained a 10-to-one ratio of spending cuts to tax increases. But as Dave Weigel writes, the GOP’s supposed anti-tax zealots have been strangely unified in arguing that Americans who pay no income taxes — but pay a variety of other taxes — should see their taxes go up:
Republican politicians didn’t make this argument — until the Obama era. What changed? For decades, the “lucky ducky” number, the percentage of Americans that pay no taxes, never rose above 30 percent. The Bush tax cuts pushed it over 30 percent, but not too far over. Then, in 2008 and 2009, the economy collapsed. The government responded with, among other things, new tax deductions.
The result: The percentage of people paying no income taxes spiked up to 47 percent and stayed there. When the Tea Party started rallying in 2009, it wasn’t protesting higher taxes, because federal income taxes were lower, with more loopholes. It was protesting the perception that productive Americans were shelling out for an ever-expanding class of moochers. And Republicans have taken the Tea Party’s lead.
Of course, as Weigel reminds us, these people do pay sales taxes, payroll taxes, gas taxes and the like. As an April 2010 report from Citizens for Tax Justice explained: “Most of these other taxes are regressive, meaning they take a larger share of a poor or middle-class family’s income than they take from a rich family. This largely offsets the progressivity of the federal income tax.” Fat City!
This tax-the-poor attitude is widely held among Republicans, who are currently positioning themselves to oppose an extension of the payroll tax credit. After having demanded Obama extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, Republicans are now fretting that the payroll tax cut will increase the deficit. Extending the Bush tax cuts increased the debt by far more than an extension of the payroll tax cut will, but that was worth it, because cutting taxes on the wealthiest Americans is the GOP’s highest priority. It’s far more important than stimulating the economy by giving a tax break to people who might actually need the money.
Of course, we’re not supposed to call the GOP’s commitment to making sure the wealthiest Americans pay as little as possible in taxes — and to increasing taxes on lower income folks — by its rightful name: “Class-warfare.” That term only applies to socialists who think we ought to return to Clinton-era tax rates.