Political Animal


June 06, 2012 4:21 PM Why Does the GOP Want to Raise Taxes on the Poor?

By Ryan Cooper

Citing the widely-repeated meme on the right that 47 percent of Americans pay no federal income tax (not to be confused with taxes in general), James Kwak has two theories:

The first is that the modern Republican Party is funded by the very rich… The result is that the parties’ platforms now reflect the wishes of their major funders, not their median voters. This is why Republican presidential candidates spent the primary season competing to offer the most generous tax breaks to the rich—while Paul Ryan’s budget slashes Medicare, a program supported by the Tea Party rank and file. For the rich people who call the shots, it’s simply in their interest to lower taxes on the rich and raise them on the poor. End of story…
The other, even-more-disturbing explanation, is that Republicans see the rich as worthy members of society (the “producers”) and the poor as a drain on society (the “takers”). In this warped moral universe, it isn’t enough that someone with a gross income of $10 million takes home $8.1 million while someone with a gross income of $20,000 takes home $19,000.* That’s called “punishing success,” so we should really increase taxes on the poor person so we can “reward success” by letting the rich person take home even more. This is why today’s conservatives have gone beyond the typical libertarian and supply-side arguments for lower taxes on the rich, and the campaign to transfer wealth from the poor to the rich has taken on such self-righteous tones.

The most trafficked post ever on my own site continues to be this Graph of Doom look at the Newt Gingrich’s tax plan back when he was still running. It was stunning then and now how much the Republican primary candidates were tripping over each other to demonstrate how much they would give back to the ultra-rich. (See here for a full comparison of all the candidates.)

But, as Kwak says, they really seem to be invested in this Randian stuff. It should also be a reminder how badly Republicans are likely to govern. There on the ups now not because of any actual argument, but because of 1) the continuing unemployment crisis and 2) their skill at organizing. Their actual policy ideas would be laughable if they didn’t have an actual chance of becoming law.

There’s a halfway plausible argument that Romney would prefer to go big on Keynesian stimulus, like Nixon did, but when it comes to domestic policy a determined Congress holds the whip hand. Be warned.

Ryan Cooper is the Monthly handyman. Follow him on Twitter @RyanLouisCooper.

Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper


  • Neil B. on June 06, 2012 6:01 PM:

    Thanks, Ryan. Well first of all it really isn't true that 47% "don't pay federal income taxes". FICA etc really are income taxes even though you'll get some back later if you live long enough. It is a requirement, it does deduct from current buying power, and other taxes are supposed to support the national interest and functioning so it isn't just something "gone."

    Also, the idea of how much someone produces is either measurable (and then can be used to test claims based e.g. on income), or it isn't (in which case, we don't have a basis for claiming what it is.) Either way, we can't assume that someone making 100x the average income is "producing" that much. If they are producing 50x and "earning" (being paid, or acquiring) 100x, then they are consuming much more than they produce. More "loss" in fact, compared to an average person who doesn't quite measure up. (Simplistic analysis, sure, but more complexity wouldn't affirm a simplistic view of apparent worth, either.)

    "Fine minds make find distinctions."

  • c u n d gulag on June 06, 2012 6:14 PM:

    "It should also be a reminder how badly Republicans are likely to govern

    Today's Republicans have absolutely NO interest in 'governing!"

    They want to RULE!

  • golack on June 06, 2012 6:23 PM:

    Alas, the "takers" now a days are the financiers. A limited amount of speculation in markets is needed, but with speculators driving the market, e.g Enron, they effectively are adding on a tax--not one that goes to gov't, but one they keep themselves. And yet that's who the supposed Randians side with. Talk about a con artists dream.

  • PhillyCooke on June 06, 2012 6:23 PM:

    The most shocking part of this strategy is that on its surface it appears to virtually guarantee a loss. If 47% of the population doesn't pay income taxes, and Republicans want to raise taxes on those people, then that means that they have to convince 95% of the remaining population (the 53% who do pay income tax) to vote for them to win election. That seems highly unlikely. Surely more than 5% of the people who pay income taxes would vote Democratic.

    However, many of those supporting the move to raise taxes on the "lucky ducky" 47% who don't pay income taxes are actually in the 47%! They're advocating raising taxes on themselves without even realizing it. That's because it's perfectly natural to not notice that your tax "refund" from the government is actually larger than the total amount of tax you paid all year long.

  • Bokonon on June 06, 2012 6:37 PM:

    What the GOP needs to do is come up with a really catchy name - like the "Tax Cuts for Everyone and Death to Islamist Fascist Terrorist Act of 2012" - and then launch a major advertising campaign behind it. And odds are, they could sell this clinker of a policy to the American public. So long as Rush Limbaugh is on board.

    Oh - wait! They are already doing this. It is called the Romney 2012 Presidential Campaign, and its embrace of the Ryan Plan. And "Cut, Cap and Balance."

    The great thing is? When the results turn out bad, the GOP can blame "big government" and the Democrats and finger them for profligrate spending. Because hey, the Democrats are alway standing around as ready-made fall guys for any policy failure.

    Rinse, repeat.


  • RepublicanPointOfView on June 06, 2012 6:45 PM:

    A nice article, but missing one key ingredient of our economic policy!

    Everyone, including Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, understands that the path to a full and blooming economy is based upon three needs.

    1) The wealthy do not have enough wealth.
    2) We have too large and an unsustainable middle class.
    3) The poor do not pay enough taxes.

    Mr. Cooper missed the equally important second point!

    I again challenge each and every one of you liberals to argue that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan do not address these important needs.

  • Patango on June 06, 2012 8:59 PM:

    They can and are getting away with proclaiming these things to voters and the msm now , they will be handing out gop brown shirts in 2 years , with little crocodiles on them ,and telling everyone how wonderfully stylish they are

  • Basilisc on June 07, 2012 4:32 AM:

    There are a few things going on.
    - PhillyCooke is right to say that a significant share of the non-taxpayers don't realize they're non-taxpayers. They see the withholding from their paycheck, get a refund when they file, but can't be bothered to work out the fact that the refund covers or more than covers for their withholding. They've just been told that there are people who don't pay taxes, and they're resentful.
    - The Republican strategy in any case is to generate resentment among the 53% who do pay against the 47% who don't. And both participation and activism among the 53% who do pay is much, much higher than among the 47% who don't.
    - The Medicare thing is strange, and of course Democrats have done a lousy job framing Ryan as a Medicare destroyer. I think as dishonest as Ryan is, even he recognises that the growth of Medicare is the main thing driving future budget deficits. So he has to do something about it in his plan. The Tea Party types just assume that no one will ever cut Medicare (analogous to how the pro-choice majority just assumes that no one will ever actually outloaw abortion), and so they're happy to ignore their economic self-interest and support Ryan et al on cultural-affinity grounds.

  • boatboy_srq on June 07, 2012 8:09 AM:

    Has anyone done any analysis of the US v. all those banana republics the US has supported/controlled over the decades? Between this post and the various comments, it sounds very much like the kind of conditions in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras et al (where there's a small cadre of wealthy land- and production- owners, a massive military machine, a horde of impoverished citizens, and rampant corruption/abuse) is actually the model God's Own Party wants for the US - and things like the Constitution and the judicial system, rather than being bulwarks of the sociopolitical system are mere impediments to achieving that. Those of us here keep saying that what the Reichwing - the Randians in particular - want is Somalia with its total lack of government; what if instead what they want is this model instead? The focus on DoD and DHS funding, along with the various assaults on all but the 1%, make horrifying sense when you look at it that way.

    And I still say that the God's Own Party position isn't that "the poor don't pay enough taxes" - it's just that employers have to pay for their labor more than once: why pay them, when you could own them?

  • Just Dropping By on June 07, 2012 10:20 AM:

    But, as Kwak says, they really seem to be invested in this Randian stuff.

    Except that Rand would have said that nobody should pay income taxes, not that the poor should pay more income taxes.

  • gifgrrl on June 07, 2012 11:00 AM:

    I just am not able to understand why someone who is so rich they can't possibly spend all their money (Koch brothers come to mind) is so hell bent on taking away what little money and power the rest of us have. Why even bother? Why on earth would you spend $10 million to destroy unions? If the Kochs were able to stop paying for health care and retirement for all their workers, what the heck? They're already richer than God, what is the point of being richer than God, Jesus and the 12 apostles? (Oh, not such a great comparison - Jesus and the apostles weren't exactly focused on money.)

    But seriously, why? I realize I'm asking for logic here and maybe that's the whole problem. But I just don't understand why, just because you're rich, you need to not only keep all your money, but make sure others can't keep theirs.

    Somebody please explain.

  • Another Steve on June 07, 2012 11:08 AM:

    Just this simple:

    You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger' -- that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me -- because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger."

    Interview with Alexander P. Lamis (8 July 1981), as quoted in The Two-Party South (1984)

  • Another Steve on June 07, 2012 11:10 AM:

    That's a quote from Lee Atwater. It was quoted anonymously in the book and revealed by the author to have come from him after his death.

  • Ed Drone on June 07, 2012 12:44 PM:

    The income divide in this country is going to be our downfall. Guaranteed.

    Why, I wouldn't be in the 1% if you gave me a million dollars!