Damon Silvers is the policy director and special counsel of the AFL-CIO.
The psychology of Mitt Romney's apparent attack on 47 percent of Americans is fascinating. It’s all about the excuses the very rich make up to cover for their refusal to bear their fair share of the costs of maintaining civilization. Because, of course, the poor actually pay a higher share of their income in taxes than people like Romney do, it's just they don’t pay it in federal income tax.
The poorest 20 percent of America pays 17.4 percent of their income in state and federal taxes—in federal income and payroll taxes, sales taxes and other excise taxes and state income taxes. As we know, in the one year Romney has disclosed, he paid just under 13.8 percent in federal taxes, almost all of his income was not subject to payroll tax, and his state income tax bill was 4.1 percent for a total of 17.9 percent—Romney earned $21.6 million last year and paid only half a percent more in total taxes than the poorest people in the country. And that is in the one year he is willing to tell us about.
In the real world though, there are four types of households that don’t end up owing federal income tax—households that have income but it is simply too small to be taxed in that year—often because of a disruption of some kind, such as an illness or a period of unemployment. A large part of this group are families with children who can use the child tax credits. Then there are retirees—they make up 22 percent of those who pay no federal tax. The final large group are people who are not working for good reasons—students, people with disabilities and those who cannot find a job. Contrary to what Romney and his audience may think—the 47 percent is a cross section of ordinary Americans—white, Latino and African American, religious and secular, Democrats and Republicans. And they are concentrated in red states and Florida.
So Romney's attack is not so much an attack on people who support Obama as it is an attack on Americans who support Romney. Romney latched on to a line that is popular among some Republicans—that around half of American households do not pay income tax in a given year and this makes them irresponsible people (the subtext is these people shouldn’t be allowed to vote)—and then he made the bizarre mistake of assuming that those households all vote for President Obama.
Think about this for a minute—Romney has just described his attitude toward the majority of retired Americans, millions of working parents of young children, a significant number of military families, most students, most of the disabled and people who can’t find work with the following words—"[M]y job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
And, of course, millions of those same “dependent” people, at least as of yesterday, intend to vote for Mitt Romney for president. Without the support of those “dependent” people, those “people who believe they are victims,” who “lack personal responsibility,” the Republican Party wouldn’t elect a single person outside of a handful of wealthy enclaves.
So the question for the day is, who is going to tell Republican 47 percenters what their candidate for president and his financial backers really think of them?