Why Are Republicans Complaining About The 47 Percent?

[ Posted Wednesday, September 19th, 2012 – 15:48 UTC ]

Why are Republicans suddenly complaining about what should, by their logic, be a success story for them? Why have Mitt Romney and all the other GOP pearl-clutchers gotten the vapors over the 47 percent of Americans who do not pay federal income taxes? After all, if you follow Republican dogma all the way through to its logical conclusion, Republicans are supposed to be working hard every day to reduce taxes on everybody, all of the time. "Reducing" taxes is one thing, but the ultimate in reduction is complete elimination, right? Republicans really do believe that America would be better off if everyone's taxes got as close to zero as possible. So why aren't they ecstatic that they've achieved half their goal?

Think about it. At the heart of Mitt Romney's new argument is a complete disconnect with the core, unshakeable tenet of the Republican faith -- "lower taxes for all." What Mitt Romney is arguing, when stripped of heated rhetoric, is that it is a bad thing that 47 percent don't pay federal income taxes, and that it would be a good thing if those people actually did pay federal income taxes -- thus arguing for raising taxes on half of the country. There is no way to escape this -- you are either for raising taxes, or you are for lowering taxes. Mitt Romney is now, apparently, for raising taxes on tens of millions of people. He really can't have it both ways.

One might argue that Mitt Romney and the Republicans are upset over the 47 percent because they're really only about lowering taxes on the very wealthy, and don't really care about anyone else's tax burden. It's certainly a valid argument to attempt.

But when Ronald Reagan passed his signature tax reform in 1986, two groups stood to receive most of the benefits: the very poor, and the very wealthy. The Washington Post reported this at the time: "Congress and President Reagan began the process with a commitment to remove from the tax rolls virtually all people living below the poverty line. In the bill approved last weekend, almost half of the $120 billion in individual tax relief over six years would go to people earning less than $20,000." The widely-reported figure for how many would drop off the tax rolls back then was 6.5 million people who didn't make much money and would now pay zero federal income taxes.

President Reagan had a Democratic Congress to work with, it is worth remembering. Politics played a key part in the negotiations. Reagan and the Republicans got a large reduction in the top income tax rates by balancing it with large reductions in the tax rolls at the very bottom of the scale. The middle class didn't get much out of the deal, it also bears pointing out.

Since then, Republicans have almost always tossed into the tax reform mix this relief at the bottom. Again, politically, it made sense -- because it served to counter Democratic complaints that most of the benefits of Republican tax reform always went to the ultra-wealthy. Republicans could point to the bottom and say "See, all these people who don't make much won't have to pay any tax at all under our plan."

Reagan knew it was good politics, and the Washington Post reported that he even campaigned on it to groups that would be the first to see the effects:

White House officials said Reagan plans to stress the tax measure during the next few weeks in speeches devoted to the theme that administration policies are especially beneficial to young Americans, a target group for Republicans in this year's elections.

A senior official said that Reagan is doing this because he wants to be "associated with the new and the productive, the youth of America" and that this emphasis on youth dovetails with promoting the tax bill.

There are two gut-busting, knee-slapping ironies in hearing Mitt Romney and his fellow Republicans complain now about the 47 percent. The first, as mentioned, is the fact that Republicans seem to be positioning themselves as champions of raising taxes on tens of millions of working Americans.

The second grand irony is that Republicans are complaining about it in the first place. Republican policies -- Republican tax cuts and tax reforms over the years -- are the largest force which has expanded the number of people who pay no federal income taxes. To put it another way, this is how it was supposed to work. So why aren't Republicans touting their "success" to the skies now? Why aren't they bragging that Republicans have cut federal income taxes to zero for almost half of Americans, and that they'll be redoubling their efforts to raise that number substantially in the days ahead?

What passes for Republican logic is awfully hard to figure out, at times. Tax cuts are always supposed to be good, and the ultimate tax cut is to not have to pay taxes at all. Which, again, should be a good thing in Republicanland. In fact, their own policies -- dating back to Ronald Reagan himself -- have created this situation. So why are they complaining about it now?


[Note: My apologies for not providing links with this article, but I did my research on a database site with a paywall. The first Washington Post quote comes from the article "For Tax-Overhaul Conferees, Major Task Was Defining 'Middle America' " (August 24, 1986), and the longer quote was from "To Tax Bill's Passage; President Urges Congress to Rebuff Lobbyists' Attempts To Amend Senate Proposal" (May 15, 1986).]

-- Chris Weigant


Cross-posted at Business Insider
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


28 Comments on “Why Are Republicans Complaining About The 47 Percent?”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    What about the irony that swirls around the assertion that a good chunk, if not an outright majority, of the people who make up Mitt Romney's 47 percent are voters in Red states who typically, if not always, vote Republican?

    I guess Romney isn't worried about those folks, either. He knows they typically, if not always, vote against their own economic and political interests, anyway - whether he publically disrespects them or not.

  2. [2] 
    michty6 wrote:

    Good article - I haven't seen this discussed much elsewhere which, considering how much this issue has been talked about the past few days, is testament to the quality of your piece.

    I think I know the answer to your query though: by today's Republican standards Reagan would be considered a lefty socialist! Screw equal opportunity and fairness in your tax system - everyone is just leeching of the wealthy who should be able to keep their spoils. It is much less surprising now that that Romney selected a VP so in love with Ayn Rand: altruism is evil, the poor are scroungers - selfish individualism for all!

    Don't worry, everything he does is calculated - Romney doesn't need Veterans/Soldiers/Students/Hispanic/Black/Housewives/Poor/Unemployed/Disabled/Elderly votes to get elected! He can insult them at will. Sadly his base is so ill-informed they have no idea that he is talking about (and insulting) a vast number of them - the tea-party loves this rhetoric.

  3. [3] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    ya, seriously! the argument is something like: "the poor don't pay income taxes! how completely unfair that is to the super duper ultra wealthy! I mean come on, they pay a whole 15%! (middle class? what middle class?)"

  4. [4] 
    akadjian wrote:

    Why it's simple ... Republicans have never really cared about lowering taxes for everyone.

    What they care about is lowering taxes for the top 1% and up who are their campaign donors.

    Everything else is just a bribe to accomplish this goal. Every now and then we just happen to catch a glimpse of one of them speaking the truth :)


  5. [5] 
    michty6 wrote:


    the poor don't pay income taxes

    Not to nit-pick, but this isn't true - you are falling into their semantic game! The correct expression would be '(some of) the poor don't pay federal income taxes'. If you include payroll taxes as 'income taxes' (which most would, since they are a tax on income!) then the poor actually pay a substantial proportion of their income as tax (in fact 2/3 of this '47%' group) - probably much higher than Mr Romney's 13.9%...

    The actual number of Americans who pay a form of income tax is around 80%. But don't let facts spoil a good Republican 'half of Americans are moochers' rant...

  6. [6] 
    michty6 wrote:

    First serious analysis I've seen to indicate the House is in play:

  7. [7] 
    LewDan wrote:

    While I generally agree with the point you're trying to make, complaining about people paying no taxes is not the same as advocating tax hikes. Most of the 47% would love to pay federal taxes if if meant they had so much more income paying federal taxes were required. And neither they, nor anyone else, would consider it a tax hike.

    What everyone is missing, I think, is that the Republicans have shown that they don't really believe in either progressive taxes or flat taxes. They don't, to put it simply, believe in any formula of taxation which taxes the wealthy. Not progressive taxes, because then the wealthy pay too much. Not flat taxes, because then the wealthy pay too much. The poor, the middle-class, however can never pay too much; or to be more accurate, as Romney said, the Republican party simply believes its not their job to care about them.

  8. [8] 
    LewDan wrote:


    A point far more important to be making! Because, conversely, the wealthy, such as Romney, whose income is from capital gains rather than salary, pay no federal payroll taxes. Its only the uber-wealthy and totally impoverished who might actually pay no federal taxes.

    And since Republicans are now claiming FICA is just a "tax," middle-class and poor working Americans pay a far higher percentage of their earnings as federal taxes, two or three times higher, than the wealthy do.

  9. [9] 
    michty6 wrote:

    Exactly LD. The American income tax system is much flatter than you'd think it is because of the effects of the (regressive) payroll tax and the fact payroll tax doesn't apply to some types of income like capital gains, dividends etc (the type of income only received by middle-upper class Americans). Then when you add in other regressive taxes, like sales tax, you'll find that the poor actually pay (proportionally) a much more significant chunk of their income in tax than the wealthy.

    Therefore focussing on 'federal income tax', which is a progressive tax, completely ignores all the hard-ship endured by these people under the many other regressive taxes imposed on them. It's a deliberate (semantic) distraction to try and focus people on the one type of tax that is actually progressive and ignore all the other regressive ones.

    This is the main point: it's not about the number, it's about the fact that Romney has absolutely no clue (and stated he doesn't even care enough to bother learning) about all these other taxes and the burdens, problems and suffering of millions of Americans. The real Romney lives in a complete bubble unaware of all this and unwilling to even try to fix it - how could he fix it when he doesn't understand or care about it? This real Romney was displayed for all to see.

  10. [10] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    you are falling into their semantic game!

    um, that was a paraphrase of their semantic game, and it wouldn't have been a very good one if i'd taken space in the middle to nitpick.

  11. [11] 
    michty6 wrote:

    Yeh sorry ny, I over-reacted. There is probably nothing in this world that riles me up more than bashing the poor. (That should be my bumper sticker!)

  12. [12] 
    SF Bear wrote:

    So where is Michale? I can't wait to learn how the pointy head liberals got this all wrong and how the 47% comment just cemented the election for Mr. Romney

  13. [13] 
    Kevin wrote:

    SF Bear-

    Shh...just enjoy an almost unheard of 12 straight sane comments in a row.

  14. [14] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    The thing about Romney's tax faux pas is it flies in the face of the classic American idea that anyone from any socioeconomic class can succeed. There were few years that I did not pay federal income tax. It was when I was in college working part time jobs in order to help support the effort. I had some help from parents but not the government. I wonder how many republicans can remember a time in their life that they were over 18 and did not pay income taxes. Quite a few I would think...

    But this does bring up another question: what else is Romney talking about at these private functions that the public never hears? At the very least I think it demands more details about his plans for fixing things...

  15. [15] 
    michty6 wrote:

    ... or his own taxes, as he may very well be in the 47% for all we know...

  16. [16] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    SFBear -

    You know what else I'd love to hear from the right?

    Remember how just a short few weeks ago, one of Romney and the GOP's favorite talking points was how "divisive" Obama was being, since he was "dividing the country up" and setting them against each other in "class warfare"???

    Remember that? It was only a few weeks ago...

    Haven't heard this talking point recently, since the Romney tape surfaced. Guess both sides do that "divisive" thing, if you know what I mean...



  17. [17] 
    LeaningBlue wrote:

    NOTE: For some reason paragraph spacing isn't working for me; I'll get the hang of it soon, though...

    Haven't posted here in a long time, but did keep up with the readings in case there would be a pop quiz. There wasn't really much to say. As much as I could wish for Perry or Bachmann, we all know which candidate would emerge: it was Harvard's turn to try.

    But now, it's gonna get good. The risk that the Republican party faces now, and the first signs of that chill in the air, is what happens when a wife picks up the phone in the bedroom and hears her husband telling his mistress how much he hates his wife's snoring.

    In the meantime, a kind of random note: take a peek at why Harry Reid has the job he does, making sure this afternoon that Scott Brown had ample time to get his debate.

  18. [18] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    LeaningBlue -

    If you're referring to the "preview" function (such as it is), then your paragraphs aren't the problem, my lack of programming skills are. Your paragraphs look fine to me, I just usually enter two "Return" characters, and the software does the rest automatically.

    You did indeed miss a quiz. I had to repackage it as a "game" before anyone would play, so I heartily encourage you to check it out and report back your score. Heh.

    Anyway, welcome back and stick around for all the election fun!



  19. [19] 
    dsws wrote:

    Got 53 on the quiz.

  20. [20] 
    dsws wrote:

    One might argue that Mitt Romney and the Republicans are upset over the 47 percent because they're really only about lowering taxes on the very wealthy

    Needs no argument.

    and don't really care about anyone else's tax burden.

    Not quite. They see wealth in relative terms. If they can further impoverish the poor, that makes the rich richer by comparison.

  21. [21] 
    Michale wrote:

    So where is Michale? I can't wait to learn how the pointy head liberals got this all wrong and how the 47% comment just cemented the election for Mr. Romney


    Even when I give ya'all a break and let you wallow in your echo chamber, my services are missed!!! :D

    Since FoxNews has officially been declared a valid source for opinion, I'll let Napalitano speak for me.. :D

    Face it, people. There won't be any blowback from Independents and NPAs, because the vast majority of Independents and NPAs agree completely with Romney's position...

    And, since it's the Independents and NPAs that will decide the election..... :D


  22. [22] 
    Michale wrote:

    Shh...just enjoy an almost unheard of 12 straight sane comments in a row.

    This is the EXACT problem with the Hysterical Left..

    YOUR comments are sane... Anyone's comments who DON'T agree with their comments are insane.

    Now ya'all know exactly why I compare political fanatics to religious fanatics. It's the same type of mind/will enslavement.

    MY Political Party is right.. YOUR Political Party is wrong..
    MY priests are right. YOUR priests are heretics..

    MY god is right. YOUR god is evil..
    MY President is right. YOUR president was evil..

    It's the exact same mentality...

    Ya'all simply REFUSE to accept ANY other opinions except your own...

    Do you know how I know this?? Because NO ONE here has every taken the GOP side in a DEM/GOP issue...

    Given this FACT, only one of two possibilities exist..

    1. Dems are right ALL the time..

    2. The Democratic Party is like parents. Ya'all will support them, even if you think they're wrong...

    Now, NO ONE with more than 2 brain cells to rub together (that leaves a couple of ya'all out :D) could conclude that 1 is accurate..

    That leaves only #2 as the only logical choice...

    "Simple logic."
    -Admiral James T Kirk



  23. [23] 
    Michale wrote:

    It's interesting to note that Obama finally admits he can't change Washington..

    The ONE promise that prompted me to vote for him..

    His biggest promise ever...

    And now he admits he can't do it..

    Well, at least we are (FINALLY) seeing honesty from our President...


  24. [24] 
    Michale wrote:

    Hay CW,

    You asked CB if she was worried. Wasn't sure if it was in this commentary or another..

    Well, while I can't speak for her, I can tell you that I am not worried..

    It's established fact that the MSM is aiding and abetting Team Obama... According to reports, Team Obama's internal polling paints a very dismal picture for Obama..

    So much so that the agent securing his retirement home in Hawaii has been told it needs to be ready by 13 Jan..

    Yea, I know, I know. Obamabots unite and kill the story!!!! :D

    Nice thing about this is, in 45 days, 5 hours, 8 minutes we'll know if it's true or not. :D


  25. [25] 
    michty6 wrote:

    Yes Michale, it's a liberal/Google media conspiracy. Anything that is good news for the Democrats has been planted by the liberal media as part of this conspiracy. Even the Fox News polls are part of this massive conspiracy too? Yawn.

  26. [26] 
    michty6 wrote:

    More news on the tax front today. Romney actually voluntarily paid more tax in order to keep his tax rate above 13%! Without voluntarily ignoring some deductions his actual tax rate would've been 9-11%. Damn I should move to America!

  27. [27] 
    LeaningBlue wrote:

    Howard Fineman writes today of the fragmentation risks to the Republican party; this is what I alluded to more poetically -or snarkily- yesterday. Fineman identifies "no less than seven ideological precincts within the party," and proceeds to discuss them and their reactions to the culminating events of this week.

    I'm reminded, though, of something said to me eighteen months ago, not too long after that last election. It concerned the fundamental difference between the "Big Tents" (BT's) of the two parties. The difference, he said, was that the interest groups in the Republican party were by nature uncompromising and unrelenting, while those in among the Democrats were the opposite.

    He speculated that it was rooted in the broad differences in demographics and economic self-identification, but it doesn't matter. His point was that the Republican BT had much more in common with a European parliamentary coalition than it had with that of the Democratic party.

    All it was going to take, he said, was an electoral disaster for the coalition to evaporate, and the internecine strife to epochally transform the party. The risk of that happening is rising by the day, it seems.

    CW, thanks for the re-welcome! I took a look at the subject of the quiz, and I'll take it when I have the time and beers to do so. Gonna project I'll do okay, having spent a good deal of time in my younger days on the road, beginning with parents' vacations, end-of-school-year transcon drives, and employment. The only thing I really regret about any of the time on the road, as compared, say, to Lampoon's vacation, is that we never had cause to strap the corpse of any cranky relative to the car roof for delivery somewhere Down the Road.

  28. [28] 
    Michale wrote:


    Remember how just a short few weeks ago, one of Romney and the GOP's favorite talking points was how "divisive" Obama was being, since he was "dividing the country up" and setting them against each other in "class warfare"???

    There is no doubt that Romney's campaign is divisive..

    And, if you ever posted a commentary that said otherwise, you can bet the farm that I would be right there, correcting the record...

    So, since we have established that Romney's campaign is divisive, is there ANYONE here willing to concede the same point about Obama's???

    {{{chhhiiiiirrrrrrpppppp}}} {{{chirrrrrrrrppp}}}

    Didna think so...


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