Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri. or Sat., Nov. 1, 2 or 3
Mitt Romney insulted millions of Illinoisans when said he doesn’t care about the 47% of Americans who don’t pay taxes or receive help from government. The GOP presidential candidate surely has made such remarks other times, but a recording makes a denial impossible. So his comment – smug, dumb or both – has since been characterized as him “misspeaking.” But changes of heart and head are routine for Romney.
This week, as tens of millions of Americans are affected by Hurricane Sandy, Romney asked for folks to keep those in harm’s way in their prayers and to consider donating to the Red Cross. Stunningly, he’s also proposed eliminating the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and have states deal with disasters or privatize the efforts. Of course, that would mean uncoordinated responses to disaster relief, since 14 states would try to deal with the crisis. Plus, no single state has resources to handle anything this size. (Financially, it just can’t be achieved by business alone.)
The 47% flap started when a tape of Romney speaking to Florida supporters was disclosed. In it, Romney said, “There are 47% who are with him [President Obama], who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, you name it. These are the people who pay no income tax – 47% of Americans pay no income tax. And so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them to take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
(Maybe Romney “misspoke,” but he seems willing to say almost anything to almost anyone. John McCain’s 2008 campaign, considering Romney as a running mate, noted his 180-degree change on abortion, fuel-efficiency standards, gay marriage, gun rights, health care, new taxes, stem-cell research and even Ronald Reagan, and McCain rejected Romney.)
Romney careened onto the express lane to Crazytown when he said 47% of Americans are “dependent on government,” dismissing millions of people, from the nation’s neediest to its oldest, from veterans who served to students getting educated to become earners and taxpayers.
Generally, about 61% of U.S. citizens who pay no income taxes do work, but they don’t earn enough to owe anything. Further, 22% of those who pay no income taxes are elderly, and the rest are full-time students, military families, folks with disabilities and jobless Americans.
Some 150 million Americans receive some government benefit, the Census Bureau says.
Illinoisans who may not be paying income taxes or who get government aid include:
* 16,000 military families (source: Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs)
* 751,492 military veterans (findthedata.org)
* 1,286,408 students in colleges here (Illinois Board of Higher Education)
* 1,444,339 people 65 years and older receiving Medicare (Kaiser State Health Facts)
* 2,065,432 recipients of Social Security OASDI [Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance] (Social Security Administration)
Romney’s blanket indictment infers that people who don’t pay income taxes because their incomes are low or nonexistent aren’t taxed. That’s baloney. The Urban Institute concedes that 46% of U.S. households owed no federal income tax for 2011, but that doesn’t mean they don’t pay taxes. Almost everyone pays payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare, gas taxes, sales taxes, state and local taxes and even property taxes (directly if they’ve escaped foreclosure or indirectly if they pay rent).
Also, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says that recent income-tax numbers are exaggerated by lingering effects of the Great Recession. It’s “an anomaly that reflects the unique circumstances of 2009, when the recession greatly swelled the number of Americans with low incomes and when temporary tax cuts created by the 2009 Recovery Act were in effect,” it says.
So if the economy continues to improve and if profitable employers raised workers’ wages, folks Romney disregards as the 47% wouldn’t need assistance and wouldn’t feel victimized. Further, an engaged (enraged/) citizenry voting for its own economic interests, and demanding its representatives act accordingly, could transform the 99 percent from depending on a wealthy elite of 1% to a 99% earning decent pay at secure jobs and sharing the tax and other responsibilities of living and working together in the country.
More than ever, Romney seems like an OK guy who’s so desperate to be president he’ll say or do things he may not believe just to appeal to whomever he’s addressing. He’s over his head in foreign policy, he’s over his head in politics; he’s over his head in conjuring what really inspires Americans; he’s over his head in his privileged impression of U.S. society; he’s over his head about the country – which still values hard work and resents the negative connotations of being entitled to something.