ThinkProgress filed this report from a town hall meeting in Milton, WI.
Earlier this week, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) embarked on a series of town halls across his southern Wisconsin congressional district. Ryan has gained notoriety in recent weeks as the architect of the Republican budget which extends tax breaks for the wealthy and phases out Medicare. House Republicans voted 235–4 in favor of the plan.
During a town hall meeting in Milton, a constituent who described himself as a “lifelong conservative” asked Ryan about the effects of growing income inequality in our nation. The constituent noted that huge income disparities contributed to the Great Depression and the Great Recession, and thus wanted to know why the congressman was “fighting to not let the tax breaks for the wealthy expire.”
Ryan argued against “redistribut[ing]” in this manner. After the constituent noted that “there’s nothing wrong with taxing the top because it does not trickle down,” Ryan argued that “we do tax the top.” This response earned a chorus of boos from constituents:
CONSTITUENT: The middle class is disappearing right now. During this time of prosperity, the top 1 percent was taking about 10 percent of the total annual income, but yet today we are fighting to not let the tax breaks for the wealthy expire? And we’re fighting to not raise the Social Security cap from $87,000? I think we’re wrong.
RYAN: A couple things. I don’t disagree with the premise of what you’re saying. The question is what’s the best way to do this. Is it to redistribute… (Crosstalk)
CONSTITUENT: You have to lower spending. But it’s a matter of there’s nothing wrong with taxing the top because it does not trickle down.
RYAN: We do tax the top. (Audience boos). Let’s remember, most of our jobs come from successful small businesses. Two-thirds of our jobs do. You got to remember, businesses pay taxes individually. So when you raise their tax rates to 44.8 percent, which is what the president is proposing, I would just fundamentally disagree. That is going to hurt job creation.
Ryan’s constituent is correct to point out that income inequality is accelerating in the United States and tax cuts aimed at the wealthy are exacerbating the problem. Between 1980 and 2005, “more than 80 percent of total increase in Americans’ income went to the top 1 percent.” Indeed, as Ezra Klein points out, the extension of the Bush tax cuts plays a major role in our projected federal deficit. Ryan, who advocates permanently extending the Bush tax cuts, uses the resulting federal deficit as justification for phasing out Medicare and slashing the social safety net.
Still, Ryan’s outraged constituents are representative of the country as a whole. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 72 percent of Americans wanted Congress to raise taxes on wealthy Americans making more than $250,000 per year.
For more on income inequality, check out Slate’s 10-part series The United States of Inequality.
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