Most of us who follow tax issues in the news and in political campaigns are aware that GOP candidate Mitt Romney has been very secretive about various items.
First and foremost, he has been secretive about his own extraordinary wealth: he has refused to follow his father's example in releasing more than a decade of tax returns and he has maintained numerous accounts offshore, including in jurisdictions that are known for banking secrecy. This secrecy is problematic for many voters, because without those returns it is difficult to evaluate his aggressiveness in using shelters or taking controversial positions on returns to save himself tax dollars --a topic that is surely relevant to his qualification to hold the highest executive office in the land.
Second, he has been secretive about his plans for achieving across-the-board tax cuts of enormous benefit to the uber-rich and multinational corporations while claiming to maintain revenue neutrality. Respected non-partisan tax analysts have concluded that his plans simply don't add up--the "arithmetic", as Democratic speeches noted, is against him. When he refuses to specify just what programs he would cut while cutting taxes and increasing military expenditures, many voters are naturally suspicious that the cuts will all be taken out of the safety net--voucherization of Medicare, privatization of education funding, and even more of the deregulation that cost us so much in the 2007-8 financial crisis--while continuing the over-spending on military and various lucrative loopholes for the wealthy like the "carried interest" provision for private equity managers.
Third, he has been secretive about his lack of commitment to the disadvantaged in our society. His failure to describe how he will create jobs (other than through his claim that managing vulture capital "leveraged buy-out" funds is good preparation for the presidency) suggests that he has no ideas other than the long disproven ones being pushed by the Chamber of Commerce and other business lobbying organizations--less regulation, more privatization, more reductions to earned benefits like Medicare and Social Security, and more tax provisions that favor the rich that the GOP labels--without empirical support-- as the "job creators". But he has nonetheless tried to foster an image of caring about American people who weren't born to the life of wealth and luxury that he's enjoyed.
That third point of secrecy was shattered by the revelation of a taped video of Romney comments to major donors (delivered at a May 17 fundraiser at an investment banker's home in Boca Raton, Florida), in which Romney showed utter disdain for the large segment of the US population who ultimately do not pay any federal income taxes. Romney called those who pay no federal income tax "dependent on government" and indicated that they see themselves as "victims". He concluded he'd "never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives." See David Corn, Secret Video: Romney Tells Millionaire Donors What He REALLY Thinks of Obama Voters, Mother Jones (Sept. 17, 2012).
See also Chris Miles, Obama vs Romney Polls: How Latest Romney Gaffe May Have Just Lost Him Ohio, Policymic (Sept. 17, 2012); MicCheck.com email alert, 47% Video Worsens Romney's September Nightmare (Sept. 18, 2012); Chris Cillizza, The Fix: Mitt Romney's darkest hour, Washington Post.com (Sept. 17, 2012).
Romney's 47% comment fairly drips with disdain and scorn for ordinary Americans, casting them, as the Mother Jones article cited above notes, as "a mass of shiftless moochers who don't contribute much, if anything, to society." David Corn, Secret Video: Romney Tells Millionaire Donors What He REALLY Thinks of Obama Voters, Mother Jones (Sept. 17, 2012). It is of a par with comments by a woman that I met at a reception in Boston over the weekend, who spewed scorn as she claimed that anybody that is on welfare or getting unemployment is just a lazy bum that wants the rest of us to hand them a living on a silver platter. Romney's and the woman's comments both show absolute insularity from the real world of povery and near-poverty in America in the aftermath of Bush's Great Recession, when able-bodied men despair of their situation in being unable to find a job, any job, and young folks grow hopeless as they fill in application after application. Without government programs to fill in the gaps for these groups, their lives would be truly desperate. Their non-taxpayer situation has nothing to do with lack of personal responsibility and everything to do with a society in which the economy for too long has favored the uberrich at the cost of ordinary Americans.
Remember that the federal income tax is specifically designed to protect taxpayers in the lower income distributions from paying federal income tax through the use of the standard deduction and personal exemptions. That's because Congress has always assumed that there should be a minimum below which the federal income tax does not reach. And Congress has enacted a number of other exclusions and credits designed to ensure that the federal income tax doesn't fall too heavily on the more vulnerable amongst us.
About half of those [46% of households] did't pay [federal income taxes] because of standard deductions and personal exemptions designed to exclude subsistence levels of income from taxation. The rest received tax breaks, including the earned income tax credit, the child tax credit and tax benefits for older Americans such as the exclusion of Social Security benefits from income." Richard Rubin, Romney's 47% With Not Taxes Combines Elderly with Poor Workers, Bloomberg Businessweek (Sept. 18, 2012).
Furthermore, most taxpayers who pay no federal income tax do pay other taxes: state and local income, property and sales taxes eat up a substantial amount of income, as do federal payroll taxes, which often amount to the most significant tax bite for these lower-income taxpayers. And as the Rubin article also notes, people who don't pay income tax one year--because of returning for education, job losses, extraordinary medical expenses and other causes--come back on the tax rolls in later years when they finish studies or find work.
Regrettably, Romney's remarks at the fundraiser mainly reveal an eager player in the class warfare game that the right has engaged in for the last few decades--it reflects a firm support for tax policies that redistribute upwards to the elite, at whatever cost to ordinary Americans who are disdained and even despised as irresponsible and lazy. With CEOs making 200-400 times what their average workers make and the productivity gains contributed most especially by the workers being siphoned off for increasingly higher pay for the executives, ordinary Americans already are hurting. Tax policies that continue the rip-off by continuing preferential rates for capital gains, providing even more preferential marginal rates for the uberrich, and eliminating worldwide taxation on multinationals will do even greater harm to ordinary Americans and the sustainability of our economy.