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October 13, 2011 9:20 AM ‘No one likes to see tax increases, but…’

By Steve Benen

This exchange from Tuesday night’s debate may be one of those moments voters see more than once.

Q: Governor Romney, I want to ask you, because President Obama’s jobs bill was stalled in the Senate today, and so it may have to be broken into component parts for Congress to vote on. If the payroll tax cut is not extended, that would mean a tax increase for all Americans. What would be the consequences of that?

ROMNEY: No one likes to see tax increases, but…

At that point, Romney changed the subject.

Later, in the same debate, Romney balked at the payroll tax cut, calling the breaks “little Band-Aids.” (That Romney believed the exact opposite last year is par for the course.)

Also consider the larger context. At a debate a month ago, Romney was asked about the percentage of Americans who don’t make enough money to be eligible for a federal income tax burden. The former governor responded, “I don’t want to raise taxes on the American people, but I think everybody ought to feel that they’re part of this effort and that they’re providing for our military.”

So, over the course of the last month, Romney has said “I don’t want to raise taxes on the American people, but…” followed by “No one likes to see tax increases, but…” when addressing two separate tax policy debates. The first was about income taxes; the second was about payroll taxes.

When the political world considers Romney’s biggest vulnerabilities as a presidential candidate, the focus tends to be on the two obvious flaws: his incessant flip-flopping and his atrocious record on job creation. But let’s not overlook an issue that’s bubbling under the surface: Mitt Romney wants to raise taxes on the middle class.

Indeed, the ostensible Republican frontrunner apparently wants to raise middle-class taxes right away, and by quite a bit, supporting an increase in payroll taxes in 2012, and backing higher federal income taxes on lower- and middle-income earners for the foreseeable future. He’s been surprisingly explicit on the latter point, recently telling voters, “I think it’s a real problem when you have half of Americans, almost half of Americans, that are not paying income tax.”

Romney also, incidentally, wants massive tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations.

The former governor does support capital gains tax breaks for the middle class, but the average benefit for a middle-income earner would about $70 a year — far less than the tax increases Romney has in mind for working families.

The ads appear to write themselves. When was the last time we saw a Republican nominee talk so openly and often about wanting to raise middle-class taxes?

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • c u n d gulag on October 13, 2011 9:29 AM:

    Mitt Romney:
    "READ MY LIPS - NO NEW TAXES!!!
    I'll just increase the ones the poor and middle class already have!"

  • DAY on October 13, 2011 9:29 AM:

    Romney: I think its a real problem when you have half of Americans, almost half of Americans, that are not paying income tax.

    I suspect that a great many of those Americans "not paying income tax" are either not aware of that, or do not think of themselves in that group. They look at their weekly pay stubs and think "look at how much of my paycheck goes to the government- in taxes!"

  • dbcooper on October 13, 2011 9:39 AM:

    Hmmmm, let's see if I've got this right. Willard wants to raise my taxes, while he and his country club brethren pay less.

    Nice optics, Mitt for Brains.

  • Unstable Isotope on October 13, 2011 9:40 AM:

    It's certainly been a weird year when the GOP has made it plain: it's not tax increases they are opposed to - it's only tax increases for the wealthy that they are opposed to. In fact, their only economic plan is more tax cuts for the rich. That's it.

    Herman Cain will really crystallize this issue I think, with his 9-9-9 plan. It's so easy to bash (I made a Cainiac very angry doing this). I simply said "Herman Cain wants to raise the price of everything you buy by 9%." Yet, this guy is in 1st place for the moment. It's nuts.

    The GOP is full of fools who think 47% of Americans pay no taxes at all.

  • Mudge on October 13, 2011 9:43 AM:

    Let's see who the 43% are. First, the poor, who Republicans despise as slackers or moral degenerates. Everyone should be above average, of course. Also, there was a concerted policy for the last 25 odd years of converting all welfare payments to tax credits or refunds. So instaed of being poor, paying taxes and getting government assistance, they now do not pay taxes and do not get assistance. Now that the Republicans have removed the government assistance, they want to re-establish the tax. A moral imperative. Paying taxes makes citizens feel good about themselves, even on $20,000 a year.

    Rebublicans also dislike those damn liberal college students (many of whom do not pay taxes), old people (leeches) and deployed service men and civilians (who are exempt up to $86,000).

    But the wealthy are special. They need to have their taxes lowered. The peons need to tithe the landlords, who are all powerful and oh so fair and just.

  • Peter C on October 13, 2011 9:43 AM:

    Say not, 'Romney wants to raise taxes on the middle class'; say 'Romney want to raise taxes on the 99%'.

  • Anonymous on October 13, 2011 9:56 AM:

    Mitt for brains! I can't believe I've never heard that before - it's so obvious and apt!

    I wonder if anyone in Romney's camp realizes, I mean really, the buzz saw they will be stepping into going against Obama. 2012 is going to be amazing, and ugly.

  • AMS on October 13, 2011 9:57 AM:

    How is this position a winner in the general election? Surely there are limits to getting people to vote against their own self-interest. Romney has already teed this up: "He wants to raise taxes on those Americans who are already struggling the most". It's not always obvious how GOP policies hurt the middle class and low-income; this one is hard to miss.

  • Danp on October 13, 2011 9:58 AM:

    It should come as no surprise that Romney wants work to be taxed more than investments. Dems need to make the argument that while investments have the potential to encourage new businesses, they largely do little more than create bubbles, gamesmanship, and paper shuffling that greatly benefits those with inside information. Tax benefits for investment also discourages actually starting businesses.

    (Steve - thanks for this post)

  • ComradeAnon on October 13, 2011 10:04 AM:

    Good Lord! How in the world did this guy get to where he is? At least W was consistent. Dumb as a stump, but consistent.

  • Rich on October 13, 2011 10:06 AM:

    Given his waffling and flip-flops, it's remarkable that he's been so clear about this. It needs a response from the Obama campaign now, with repeated hits.

  • Monica on October 13, 2011 10:10 AM:

    Well being as any article that has to do with Ron Paul is apparently not allowed comments on this website, I would like to clarify something. First of all your articles on Ron Paul are pure slander. In this article: http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal/2011_08/ron_paul_rejects_fema_role_in031821.php# You go on about Ron Paul wanting to take it back to the 1900 hurricane but FAIL to mention the fact that there was indeed a hurricane in 2008 and Ron Paul did in fact NOT vote to pass the bill for FEMA money. He has been in congress for 24 years in his district meaning even after denying the FEMA money, he was still reelected. He not only preaches his views but proves them to be valid. Your view, however, on states not being able to handle natural disasters has not only been proven wrong with hurricane Ike but the wild fires spread all around Texas. Here in Texas, because FEMA was so far spread with hurricane Irene and flooding, we could not get assistance and Texas handled the problem themselves and did a great job. Ron Paul believes home owners should have insurance and should not rely on the government aid. If you choose to live on the coast, that's your responsibility to get the coverage you need and being as most people that live on the beach have money, I don't see a problem with that. On a grand scale, it would create more jobs and reestablish the insurance companies as well. In a competitive market, prices are lower...it's called a free market which is what Ron Paul pushes for by expressing that the federal government needs to stop regulating our lives. Federal influence has made it impossible for our economy to regulate on it's own and you have seen what good that has done. The politicians are sponsored by corporations and then pass bills in Congress that directly assist these corporations into making more money, Ron Paul wants to do away with this. My point is, if you are going to write an article, at least do your research before you slander..but being as you don't allow comments on articles involving him, I am sure you could care less.

  • Monica on October 13, 2011 10:19 AM:

    Romney's aggressive approach against China is scary considering they own half our debt and in 5 years our taxes will pay only interest on that debt. We need a drastic change soon or we are in trouble. China is already upset with us for manipulating our currency and seeing as we did away with the gold standard, we are in trouble of the dollar collapsing. All I have to say is we better elect a good one this next year because it is critical to our future. I do not see any other candidate doing anything for taxes that will help our economy except Ron Paul who wants to do completely away with them and cut all federal spending.

  • Kathryn on October 13, 2011 10:20 AM:

    Texas got 25 FEMA grants this year at least to deal with wildfires, look it up.

  • Mudge on October 13, 2011 10:29 AM:

    Someone has drunk the Kool Aid. China does not own half the debt, it owns 16%, as one example. Perhaps someone who lectures Steve on doing his research, which he seems to do rigorously, ought to do hers.

    [That is precisely why her comment was unpublished. A quick IP search showed a pattern of Ron Paul fellating, so they all went to the ether.]

  • Quatrain Gleam on October 13, 2011 11:37 AM:

    Income tax was always designed to fall most heavily upon the wealthy. In fact it wasn't until withholding was introduced in 1943 that most employees actually paid income tax.

    The bottom bracket in 1913, when Income Tax was introduced in the 16th Amendment was 0-$10,000, which is the bottom bracket today, but in inflation adjusted dollars, is equivalent to 0-$453,000 today. And the rate was 1%. Most folks didn't bother with it.

    To say that most citizens have pay no income tax (after they get their refund, that is) ignores the fact that income tax was always designed to be a tax on the wealthy, and only in the great postwar boom did most Americans become wealthy enough to be subject to it.

    If Romney, Erickson, et al want to complain about too many Americans sinking into poverty, let's have that conversation.

  • Texas Aggie on October 13, 2011 1:30 PM:

    We need to keep hammering the message that NO ONE is paying taxes on their income that correlates with the income that the "nontax paying" poor earn. Romney himself isn't paying on his first $30 or 40,000 so why should anyone else?

  • j on October 13, 2011 3:05 PM:

    And when will we see Willards tax return?
    It was amusing to see Willard preening when Christie boasted that Romney did not have to raise taxes to put through his health care law, and of course Willard did not correct him that much of the money came from the federal government, and the rest from the previous governor's rainy day fund to pay for healthcare for the un-insured.

  • 718BKNYC on October 14, 2011 12:00 AM:

    Hold on. I smell bullshit. What does Grover Norquist have to say about this? Wouldn't such a scheme that broadens the tax base which I interpret as coded language for raising taxes on people be in direct violation of his pledge? Expirations notwithstanding, there's no other way to make this work without closing loop holes or introducing income to new rates, in this case, on the lower end. In direct violation of his pledge as he spelled out so eloquently this summer. Can someone help me understand what I'm missing? If not, this is how you know it's all bullshit.

  • Denny T on February 02, 2012 5:01 AM:

    Mitt cares about us. Come on. Do you really believe he would lie to us? He seems like the kind of guy that you would find mingling with the poor or middle class anytime. He's an honest straight shooting guy. Just like the weapons of mass distruction wasn't a lie.

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