The Romney campaign has been laden with gaffes despite the continued Republican voter echoes of the innocuous nature such missteps. However, no gaffe has proven as damaging as Romney’s ill-fated attack on the 47 % of American non-taxpayers. Americans “who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims … [and] who pay no income tax.” This has persisted as an issue not because of the Left’s exaggerations of Romney’s words and intent behind them, but because many of the 47% comprise the epicenter of Republican support – hard working Americans. For Romney to say that the non-taxpayers were Obama voters for disparaging reasons simply means that Romney, and many Republican voters for that matter, have no idea how the 47% was in part enabled by Republican tax policy. The criticized 47% comprise the epicenter of Republican voter support – largely due to reconciliatory tax initiatives designed to ease the burden of American taxation.
While Republican voters are still at large following Romney’s lead against the “lucky duckies,” Republican officials have spoken out in dissent of Romney’s words against many of the hardest working Americans the nation has ever seen. (Hacker, 2011), (Strasser, 2012) It was only then that Romney began backpedaling as he sought to assert at least some level of damage control.
The Republican 47%
The 47% is actually 46.4% and represents to Romney and some Republicans a monolithic state of government dependency and American underachievement that has caused a loss in American exceptionalism. As dramatic as these Republicans have been in attacking their own within the demonized 47%, they are overlooking the fact that this monolithic, government created demographic of internal American destruction, as they describe it, has actually dropped from 51% when Obama took office. (Tax Policy Center, 2011) As such, Republican interpretation of the 47% undeniably states Obama has eased government dependency; not worsened it. They could not be more wrong in their assertions against the 47%, or President Obama’s contributory influences.
The problem with the Republican driven banter against the 47% is simple: who is not paying taxes is the worst possible measuring stick of government dependency. The decline to 47% from 51% under the Obama Administration means that roughly 4% more Americans are paying taxes today than there was when Obama took office. Comprising this 4% are those Obama swore to lower taxes on; America’s economic middle and lower classes. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011)
The assumption made is that the non-taxpayer status only applies the nation’s most under privileged. However, the complexity of the tax code coupled with political pandering that traded tax benefit for votes has created a new, modern class of non-taxpayers. Within this class of non-taxpayer, “under privileged” is hardly an accurate description. In 2001, 1% of those earning $50,000 to $75,000 were non-taxpayers whereas in 2009, 12% of this income bracket were non-taxpayers. Every tax bracket has seen similar shifts with the exception of “no adjusted gross income” earners who have remained consistently between 99.6% and 99.9% over the same period. To push the extreme of perspectives, of those earning $10,000,000 or more, 0.6% received non-taxpayer status. In 2001, 0.2% were non-taxpayers, and in 2008, 0.8% were non-taxpayers. With such a broad swath of non-taxpayers, any politician or political agenda supporter would be foolish to criticize this group – if not being fully hypocritical.
Further understanding of who the 47% are reveals that they are largely Republican voters. Perhaps this was unknown to Romney at the time, but statistically speaking, states with highest population of non-taxpayers tend to vote Republican, not Democrat. (Tax Foundation, 2012) Considering the Electoral College’s “indirect popular election” where the individual vote is not for Romney or Obama per se, but for a panel of individuals to vote on the people’s behalf; there is no mathematical feasibility in a Romney win without the overwhelming support of the 47%. This lack of insight is due not only to Republican misunderstanding of government dependency and to how such dependency correlates to non-taxpayers, but how Republican led tax programs have helped foster the existence of the 47% to begin with. These tax initiatives drew voters towards the Republican Party under the premise that their earned income lines their pockets, not that of government’s. Moreover, the more retainable income they generated, the less they would be dependent upon government.
How the 47% was created
Under President Reagan, the personal exemption for singles expanded from $1,080 to $2,000 and further grew from $2,160 to $4,000 for married couples. (Fox, 2012) As a direct consequence, the percentage of American non-taxpayers grew from 18.5% to 20%. Over the following two and a half decades, this percentage doubled due to a myriad of tax initiatives that were specifically designed to ease the tax burden on Americans. These initiatives came in the extremely popular form of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), child credit and the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993. (Session, 1993), (1993 Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, 1993) The combined effect of these tax programs swelled the non-taxpaying population an additional 4.5% by 1995. Following these tax initiatives was the Tax Relief Act of 1997 that resulted in 32.5 million American non-taxpayers, increasing the percentage to 25.2%. The $500 child credit in the Tax Relief Act of 1997 grew under the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001. (Joint Committee on Taxation, 2001) This Act increased the child credit to $600 in 2001. For 2003 and 2004, the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 increased this amount to $1,000. The Working Families Tax Relief Act then extended the $1,000 child credit from 2005 thru 2010. While these newer tax laws were being implemented, the EITC was constantly being updated to extend a greater tax relief for more Americans. By 2006, the number of non-taxpayers had grown an additional 40% creating a government that was bolstered by a population where one third of all filers paid no income taxes due the availability of wide-spread credits and deductions. In 2008 and 2009, both Bush and Obama contributed to the growth of non-taxpayers with the Making Work Pay credit, American Opportunity tax credit, alternative motor vehicle credit and first time home buyer credit. This bipartisan effort expanded the population of non-taxpayers by 28%, which has arrived at today’s belittled 47%. Clearly, to take advantage of many of these tax incentives, credits and deductions, first requires a hard working individual; not the government leeches Romney so irresponsibly and even ignorantly described.
Of these Americans, Romney lamented while being secretly recorded, “I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives…”
Many non-taxpayers have not only taken responsibility for their lives, they comprise bulk of the Republican voter base. This serves to not only explain why Romney’s notorious 47% gaffe persists, but also fully explains his lack of understanding of who his voter base actually is. Moreover, the partisan nature of modern American politics is so strong that many on the Right are still defending Romney’s words – even though they are themselves within the 47% he so ignorantly disparaged. In short, Romney essentially referred to the hardest working Americans as leeches. It is not hard to figure out why so many have been taken back by Romney’s words and why Republican hypocrisy seems to be at an all time high.
1993 Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. (n.d.). Retrieved from Univerisity of Califonria, Berkely: http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/ROHO/projects/debt/index.html
Fox, J. (2012, 09 18). Mitt Romney’s 47 Percent: Doing the Math. Retrieved from Havard Business Review: http://blogs.hbr.org/fox/2012/09/mitt-romneys-47-percent.html?cm_mmc=Soc…
Hacker, J. S. (2011). Winner Take All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer – And Turned its Back on the Middle Class. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Joint Committee on Taxation. (2001, 05 26). Summary of Provisions Contained in the Conference Agreement for H.R. 1836. Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, JCX-50-01.
Session, 1. U. (1993). Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 (Pub. Law No.: 103-66). Retrieved from Government Printing Office: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-103hr2264eh/pdf/BILLS-103hr2264eh.pdf
Strasser, A.-R. (2012, 09 19). 10 Republicans Who Have Spoken Out Against Mitt Romney’s Remarks On The 47%. Retrieved from Think Progress: http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2012/09/19/873291/10-republicans-who-d…
Tax Foundation. (2012, 09 18). Non Payers by State. Retrieved from Tax Foundation: http://taxfoundation.org/article/nonpayers-state-2010
Tax Policy Center. (2011, o6 14). (Jun 14, 2011) – T11-0173 – Baseline Distribution of Tax Units with No Tax Liability, Current Law, 2004-2011. Retrieved from Urban Instituion and Brooking Institute Tax Policy Center: http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/numbers/displayatab.cfm?Docid=3054&DocTyp…
U.S. Census Bureau . (2011, 09 21). Retrieved from U.S. Department of Commerce United States Census Bureau: http://www.census.gov/sipp/tables/quarterly-est/household-char/hsehld-ch…