Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 27, 2010

IF ONLY THOSE 'LUCKY DUCKIES' HAD SOME 'SKIN IN THE GAME'.... It's been about eight years since the far-right Wall Street Journal editorial page came up with the notion of "lucky duckies." The label was used to describe the millions of Americans who don't pay federal income taxes because they don't earn enough money.

Conservatives, it seems, still aren't quite comfortable with these folks' "luck." George Will chatted with incoming House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), who intends to make things deliberately harder on those at the bottom end of the income scale. (via Harold Pollack)

Many conservatives, including Camp, believe that although most Americans should be paying lower taxes, more Americans should be paying taxes. The fact that 46.7 million earners pay no income tax creates moral hazard -- incentives for perverse behavior: Free-riding people have scant incentive to restrain the growth of government they are not paying for with income taxes.

"I believe," Camp says, "you've got to have some responsibility for the government you have." People have co-payments under Medicare, and everyone should similarly have some "skin in the game" under the income tax system.

Let's set the record straight here. When conservatives talk about nearly 47% of the country paying no income taxes, the argument tends to overlook relevant details -- such as the fact that these same middle- and lower-class families still pay sales taxes, state taxes, local taxes, Social Security taxes, Medicare/Medicaid taxes, and in many instances, property taxes.

In other words, they already have some "skin in the game." It's not as if these folks are getting away with something -- the existing tax structure leaves them out of the income tax system because they don't make enough money to qualify.

But even if we put all of this aside, let's appreciate the underlying point of the conservatives' concern -- for all the talk on the right about cutting taxes at every available opportunity, there's also a drive to raise taxes on those who can least afford it. The GOP has a natural revulsion to any tax system, but there's an eerie comfort with a regressive agenda that showers additional wealth on the rich while asking for more from lower-income workers.

In fact, the drive on the right to increase the burdens on these middle- and lower-class families is getting kind of creepy. Some on the far-right have begun calling these Americans "parasites." Earlier this year, Fox News' Steve Doocy went so far as to ask whether those who don't make enough to qualify for income taxes should even be allowed to vote.

To be sure, most congressional Republicans won't go quite this far, at least in their rhetoric, but the GOP's drive to raise taxes on these lower-income workers is pretty transparent, as Dave Camp's comments to George Will help demonstrate. If Republicans seriously pursue this approach in the next Congress, it should set up a pretty fascinating debate.

Steve Benen 1:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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I will have no sympathy for any of these who meet untimely and painful "circumstances," and that includes their families. As someone once said, They are all Fair Game. Let their skin be ripped slowly and painfully from their leprous bodies. After all, it is only a Game!
Happy New Year!

Posted by: st john on December 27, 2010 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't the problem that both sides are dogmatic: rich people shouldn't pay more taxes; middle class shouldn't pay more taxes; poor people shouldn't pay any federal income taxes? How about some creative thinking, particularly, a way to pick up on the Republican rhetoric but turn it on them so that it bites. For example:

1. a poll tax on all; with an offsetting credit if you voted in previous federal election;

2. a temporary surtax on all federal income taxes until such time as the Iraq and/or Afghanistan wars are paid for; or a law that says any war must be paid for by a surtax.

Posted by: Johnny Canuck on December 27, 2010 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

everyone should similarly have some "skin in the game" provided it is of the correct color. Those otherwise pigmented should be barred from the game entirely.

Isn't that what you meant to tell us, Mr. Camp?

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on December 27, 2010 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Mysterious, isn't it, that despite how "lucky" they think these poor people are, and the unfairness of their taxes that they constantly carp about, they still never take the easy path to joining them?

I mean, really. All they would have to do is quit their high-paying jobs and look for something paying minimum wage, get rid of all the expensive homes and possessions they can no longer afford, start worrying about whether they can pay for health care, housing, maybe even food. But no more onerous taxes!

Posted by: Redshift on December 27, 2010 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

i totally agree that having all of these low-income families paying no taxes is unfair.

so how about we get jobs for the unemployed and raise the wages of those working until they all make so much they cross the income tax threshold. that'll show 'em!

Posted by: zeitgeist on December 27, 2010 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

Seriously, how low does one's income have to go before no taxes are owed? I know people making the tiniest incomes that end up owing the IRS hundreds and even thousands of dollars that they have to finance on credit cards or bargain to pay off over time, at a hefty interest rate.

So who are these people, and what do they earn? No one ever lets us know. I am imagining they are low low wage earners with several dependents? And we should force them to be paying for tax cuts for billionaires?

Boy the rich few really are throwing their financial weight around these days, secure that no one can touch them, legally or physically.

(Apparently some 263 individuals own 3/4 of the total wealth in the world. It may be time to make that wealth irrelevant to peoples' everyday lives, via alternative money or other systems that skirt the financial stranglehold these guys have on the whole world.)

They might have another think coming one of these days. The Saudi model of the guarded/gated community might just be breached.

Posted by: jjm on December 27, 2010 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

Just when you thought you'd heard the most pathetic evil of all.. All hail the true nazi party!

Posted by: Trollop on December 27, 2010 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

Steve Doocy is too stupid to vote, but my guess is that we allow him to do it anyway.

Posted by: Lifelong Dem on December 27, 2010 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

If we're going to make everyone pay taxes, how about starting with people who have many millions of dollars? Frank and Jamie McCourt, one or both of whom own the Los Angeles Dodgers (a divorce court is sorting out the mess) have paid zero taxes on their last $100 million or so of income. How about them getting some skin in the game!!!!

Here's a link to their tax status: http://bit.ly/axFF2J

Posted by: Proudhon on December 27, 2010 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

Most conservatives believe that paying taxes is what makes you a republican. They cannot fathom that I, a taxpayer, could possibly be a democrat.

Their goal here is to turn the working poor into tax-hating republicans to help secure more power for the rich each election day. It's pretty simple, really.

Posted by: chrenson on December 27, 2010 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

It would be nice to back up assertions with data. Fortunately, I have some.

When all taxes are considered, our system is remarkably (and I'd say embarrassingly) flat. The federal income tax is one of the few factors that prevents it from becoming regressive. http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/13/just-how-progressive-is-the-tax-system/

Posted by: dsimon on December 27, 2010 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

dsimon at 2:32: exactly! that was the very point i was going to make, that we have a more-or-less flat tax system today.

and the key to making the system more progressive is to add some new, higher marginal rates to get at the .1% of households that are taking in some 20% of income and paying the same basically flat rate as the rest of us (indeed, paying a lower effective rate than the rest of us when you consider that the sales tax, social security tax, and medicare tax are all trivial to these people).

Posted by: howard on December 27, 2010 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

I think everyone should have some skin in the game by paying taxes for 2 reasons. First, it will cause people to pay attention and maybe even vote. You know there was a reason why Dumbya waged his wars off budget and made no attempt to pay for them. Why do you think 73% of Americans approve of the capitulation to the GOP on taxes? If I do not pay federal income taxes, why should I care whether the rich are making out like the bandits they are? The second reason is that there is more than a little merit to the idea that he who pays the piper gets to call the tune.

Posted by: Terry on December 27, 2010 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans represent the rich and those who silly aspirants who-despite all evidence to the contrary-believe some day they will be rich, like when that lotto ticket finally hits. Republicans concern with 'tax cutting' is code for 'we are on your side Mr. Richy Rich so just keep those contributions coming.'

The idea that the tax burden in this country is disportionately high compared to the services provided and the burden in other industrialized wealthy countries, is nonsense.

Posted by: robert on December 27, 2010 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

My 87 year old Mother was one who didn't pay income taxes. At $12,000 per year, 40% of her income went to medicine and doctors, some out for Medicare, etc. The only solution was for her to live with me. There wouldn't be much to tax... but evidently Republicans think they should have it all.

Posted by: ML on December 27, 2010 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

jjm - technically, federal taxes are applied to every dollar of income, even if your yearly income were $1. Deductions and programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit make the actual tax payments zero for quite a few Americans.

It's hard to be certain what these Dickensian villains would like to do, but I imagine they'd like to greatly reduce programs like the EITC

Posted by: Rathskeller on December 27, 2010 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

How much federal income tax was paid by "corporate persons" Exxon and G.E. last year?

No doubt, Gooper congresscritters will scuttle about to fix this.

Posted by: ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© on December 27, 2010 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

I have been at the bottom of the income ladder. Right now I am on the upper rung. I don't have any illusions that I was a lucky ducky when I was at the bottom. Neither do I think that I am over taxed now I am at the top.

David Camp must be a trust fund baby, otherwise he wouldn't feel the need to make life harder for folks at the bottom.

By the way I still think the most pernicious fraud of all is the idea that poor people don't pay taxes. You pay social security and medicare taxes on the first dollar you make. Those social security and medicare taxes are used to fund the government, just like income taxes.

Posted by: Ron Byers on December 27, 2010 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

I look forward to all the double wide owners paying their fair share.

Posted by: flyonthewall on December 27, 2010 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

I'm self-employed and make about $25K/yr and I believe, according to my calculation, my Federal taxes will be going up next year (stimulus tax credit will be gone, replaced by payroll tax credit means I'll owe $400 more to Uncle Sam next year).

Compare that to someone with a million dollar income who will get a bonus of about $30,000 next year.

So, to Mr. Camp and his ilk: go f yourself.

Posted by: delNorte on December 27, 2010 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/UploadedPDF/1001289_who_pays.pdf does a very nice job of breaking down who pays no income taxes. Bottom line, single people making

Posted by: Vondo on December 27, 2010 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

Guess I can't use the less than sign...

Bottom line, singles making less than 20K, couples with kids less than 50-60K pay little to no income tax. The Bush era cuts were also quite generous to families while being much less so to singles with no children.

Posted by: Vondo on December 27, 2010 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

When conservatives talk about nearly 47% of the country paying no income taxes, the argument tends to overlook relevant details

Like 66% of U.S. corporations pay NO taxes.

Posted by: Joe Friday on December 27, 2010 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

I wish the Right would just come out and say directly that their goal is to create a permanent underclass of desperate, easily exploitable workers who are lorded over by a hereditary elite. It's the only way to explain how you can simultaneously be in favor of eliminating estate taxes on wealthy scions who didn't work for it, and then raising taxes on working people who barely have enough to eat.

Posted by: Area Man on December 27, 2010 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

The solution is easy: raise the minimum wage to $20 an hour. $41k a year- problem solved.

-or, we could Eat the Rich. . .

Posted by: DAY on December 27, 2010 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

the easy explanation:

the GOP has no sense of shame

Posted by: gus on December 27, 2010 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

I've been unemployed for 2 years (still am, btw). I still am liable for federal and state income taxes, beside sales taxes and other taxes and fees). For 2009 there was an extra deduction (?) which increased my standard deduction and I still ended up owing close to $3,000 to the Feds. Mr. Camp can kiss my grits.

(And that extra tax deduction was left out of the latest UI extension or the tax bill. We long-termers are getting screwed from lots of directions.

Posted by: PurpleGirl on December 27, 2010 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

Personally I am horrified that 47% of the population in this country, that these same babblers claim is the greatest on earth, have so little income or have such a huge drain on their income that they do not qualify to pay income tax.
Create some jobs! Raise these people's wages!
Far as I know the only insurance payment that is considered taxable income is unemployment insurance.
Criminy! Who are these babblers. Aren't there enough people starving in the streets to satisfy their self righteous sense of entitlement?

Posted by: thebewilderness on December 27, 2010 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

As I said at the beginning of this thread: No sympathy; let them suffer a slow, lingering demise and let them watch their families do the same. We are a nation of sociopaths whose only interest is their own comfort. Let them try to live on what the non-tax-paying people, not corporations, live on. Gov. Brewer of AZ is the poster child for these whining bastards.

Posted by: st john on December 27, 2010 at 4:16 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder what the WSJ thinks about the roughly 22,000 taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes of $200,000 or more, who had no income tax liability.

Do these folks need skin in the game, too?

source: tax.com - PDF link

Posted by: Victor on December 27, 2010 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

And I bet the d...d parasites/lucky duckies aren't paying any death taxes, either!

Posted by: exlibra on December 27, 2010 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

Taxing the poor to feed the rich? My gawd what is this nation coming to?

Posted by: JWK on December 27, 2010 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

I find the idea that a single making under 20k doesn't pay income tax. I know people who made $17k in one year and owe the IRS quite a bit.

Something is off in everyone's data here.

Posted by: jjm on December 27, 2010 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

The über rich and their Republican servants are lucky they are not swinging from corner street lamps.

If this was 1789 and the Wall Street bankers had done to France what they did to America, their heads would be on pikes outside the stock exchange.

Fortunately for today's aristocracy 18th century France was more civilized than today's America. With the high level of income inequality we have today, if I were in Congress I would be inclined to keep my mouth shut with regards to taxing the poor.

Posted by: KurtRex1453 on December 27, 2010 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

Anyone have the personal residence(s) addresses of members of Congress? Corporate CEOs? I wonder what we could do with such information? Home phone numbers and personal cell phones, including family members?
I was just wondering...no suggestions, of course, of what might be done with such information.

Posted by: st john on December 27, 2010 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

Mr. Camp may want to review his cunning plan. Does he realize what will happen when all those millions of low-income workers (and voters) start looking at the tax structure in this country and wonder why THEY'RE paying taxes and Exxon ISN'T? Most likely any attempt will be vetoed, but even if it isn't, I really don't think Rep. Camp is going to like the results.
Being the partisan I am, I say "Go ahead, Rep. Camp." The Republicans have lost the blacks, gays, hispanics, the younger voters and now want to p*ss off everyone who makes less than $50K per annum? Keep this up and they won't even be able to carry Oklahoma!
Which could be a good thing...

Posted by: Doug on December 27, 2010 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

I question the whole assertion that almost half of workers pay no income taxes. I've had some pretty low annual income in my day, and I have NEVER paid zero taxes.

Posted by: Juanita de Talmas on December 27, 2010 at 5:13 PM | PERMALINK

This is really starting to remind me of Errol Flynn's "Robin Hood". Pretty soon these mofeauxs will start lopping off hands or cutting out tongues if the poor don't pay enough tribute to the oligarchy.

Posted by: Wes on December 27, 2010 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

Only people with large estates pay the estate tax, and the goal should be that only people with larger incomes pay the income tax. It should be that only 25 percent or less of the population should worry about the income tax. The Democrats should insist that the only tax they will consider is increasing the personal and dependent exemptions. We need to increase the amount of money someone can earn before the government starts taking it away.

Posted by: david1234 on December 27, 2010 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

I think everybody should pay some sort of tax, because everybody really does need some skin in the game. The problem is that asshats like Camp don't realize that everybody pays taxes, even people on welfare pay sales taxes. Everybody, without exception, has skin in the game.

Posted by: Ron Byers on December 27, 2010 at 6:43 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with the concept that everyone needs to have some skin in the game when it comes to miltary and foreign policy. That means a universal draft of all 18 year olds (men and women). No college deferments allowed.

Posted by: Objective Dem on December 27, 2010 at 7:25 PM | PERMALINK

The "lower class" can get more skin in the game by being paid more money to start with, then they can pay more taxes too.

Posted by: Neil B on December 27, 2010 at 9:11 PM | PERMALINK

I confess I can no longer read Will's columns, but I assume he repeated the Republican meme that 45-47% of Americans "pay no federal income tax" instead of saying the truth, i.e., approximately 45% will "owe no federal income tax". Big difference. He normally says this without mentioning mandatory Social Security and Medicare taxes for those who work, sales taxes, property taxes, etc., and the unbelievable income disparity that continues to grow. I also read that those making over $1 million average paying 27% in taxes, far lower then 30 other modern western nations, and the rest of use average approximately 18%. I assume Will is thrilled to know House Republicans intend on making life even more miserable for America's working poor. That's the true American spirit. Let the devil take the hindmost.

Posted by: max on December 28, 2010 at 9:16 AM | PERMALINK



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