Throughout the debate about raising the federal debt ceiling, Republicans have denied deal after deal because Democrats insist on adding new revenues to trillions of dollars in spending cuts. Republicans have opposed repealing oil and gas subsidies, removing a tax loophole for corporate jet owners, letting the Bush tax cuts expire, and all other forms of revenue Democrats have suggested. Raising taxes in a weak economy, they argue, is unthinkable — even if conservative patriarch Ronald Reagan did just that.
But there is one tax increase some Republicans seem to favor: raising taxes on the working poor, senior citizens, and other low-income Americans.
While they fight the expiration of the budget-busting Bush tax cuts, Republicans have continually cited a report that shows that 51 percent of Americans don’t pay income taxes, even admitting that middle- and lower-class Americans need to shoulder a larger burden in deficit reduction efforts. Here is a sample of Republicans who have made that argument:
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT): In a May 5 appearance on MSNBC, Hatch said, “The place where you’ve got to get revenues has to come from the middle class,” saying the poor needed to understand “that there’s a civic duty on the part of every one of us to help this government to, uh, to be better.” On the Senate floor July 7, Hatch said the poor “need to share some of the responsibility” for deficit reduction.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX): Cornyn also cited the report on the Senate floor July 7, when he said Congress needed to address tax reform to make the system “flatter, fairer, and simpler.” He then cited the report, saying, “51 percent — that is — a majority of American households — paid no income tax in 2009. Zero. Zip. Nada.”
Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN): Coats echoed the talking point last weekend, saying “everyone needs to have some skin in the game.” He added: “I realize that some with low incomes and not much money are not paying much in taxes. Nonetheless, we all have a stake in this country and what needs to be done. I think it’s important that this burden not just fall on 50 percent of the people but falls on all of us in some form.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA): Cantor was among the first Republicans to begin hitting this particular talking point, doing so in April on CNBC’s Squawk Box. “We also have a situation in this country where you’re nearing 50 percent of people who don’t even pay income taxes,” he said.
Republicans, of course, ignore why most of the 51 percent do not pay income taxes and the myriad ways in which they are subject to other forms of taxation. The majority who do not pay federal income taxes simply do not make enough money to qualify for even the lowest tax bracket. But they do contribute through payroll, state, and sales taxes. Less than a quarter of Americans don’t contribute to federal tax receipts, and the majority of those are students, the elderly, or the unemployed.