Skin in the Game : Mitt Romney and the 47%

On trash night last week an elderly Vietnamese woman stood outside my front door, waiting patiently for me to notice her.  I recognized her immediately and opened the screen. I suspect that she knows little English–she simply stood there, smiling shyly.  “Oh!  Bottles!  I forgot!”  I smiled and  pointed toward the back alley.  Her bicycle was hung with a number of empty bags as she began her slow evening peregrinations through City Heights alleys, picking through recycling bins that were as tall as she. Our bin always provides a particularly rich haul.  It is evident that she is not doing this as an antidote to unbearable ennui or as part of an exercise regimen.  She clearly depends upon the recycling to augment her income.

This week I watched the recent video of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney describing the 47% of the population that pays no federal income tax as shiftless, government dependent moochers.  While this is not a new right wing talking point–it played heavily during the Republican presidential primaries–there was a shocking quality to Romney’s assertions.  He oozed equal parts certitude in those assertions and utter dismissiveness of their subject.  Which is to say he came off as a sneering plutocrat.

Romney was at a  $50,000 a plate fundraiser at a private residence in Boca Raton Florida.  (The median household income in the US is $51,194 for a quick comparison.  In my City Heights census tract it is substantially lower.)   The fundraiser was hosted by a fellow venture capitalist.  Venture capitalists do not receive pay checks which among many other things means they do not pay Social Security taxes.  That is an important point.

The wealthiest among us are like the lilies of the field which neither spin nor toil. Instead, their money works for them, worming its way through tax loopholes, shored up by public subsidies and then hanging out in offshore tax havens for R&R.  And smart multi-millionaires like Romney and billionaires end up paying low effective tax rates which are perfectly legal as Mr. Romney has reminded us on a number of occasions.

But Romney was not talking about those kinds of self-serving, self-indulgent government dependent parasitic moochers.  He was talking about the elderly Vietnamese woman picking through the recycling; the elderly and people with disabilities who live off their Social Security in the federally subsidized housing down the block; the working poor who have not only Social Security taxes but federal taxes deducted from their checks, and then receive refunds on the latter through earned income and dependent child deductions.

Romney was talking about the “moochers” who are fighting in Afghanistan and do not have to pay federal income tax; he is talking about the kids who get Pell grants and single moms who get food subsidies through SNAP.

There is something obscene about the conservative voices demanding that these people  “put some skin in the game.”  “Skin in the game?”  These people have their whole lives consumed by trying to make enough money to pay the rent and feed their families or make do with the meager amount they have because they are too old or infirm to work.

Neighbors have lost their homes when they lost their jobs.  My neighbors have suffered and some of them died when they lost their jobs and had no health care.  They died.  Does that count as skin in the game? Or is that merely an applause line in a Republican presidential debate?

It’s time for the Republicans to put their money where their mouth is.

First off, Mitt Romney, show us your tax returns.  You asked for ten years worth from Paul Ryan as part of the VP vetting process. In a recent Fox interview he said “I think people would like to be paying taxes.”  I assume that also applies to Romney, so we’re not going to take his word for it that he paid the taxes which were legally required, and never less than 13%.

Let’s talk the George W Bush tax cuts.  There were two, and neither of them was paid for, which resulted in a larger number of people who owed no federal taxes and less federal revenue. And we wiped out the budget surplus that Clinton left.  Republicans- are you ready to swallow your own strong medicine and let all the Bush tax cuts expire?

The Earned Income Credit and Child Credit were the Republican alternatives to raising the minimum wage couched as an incentive to get people into the workforce.  Matt Taibbi provides a contrast between the working poor and Mitt Romney in his inimitable way:  “If you’re low income enough to not be paying income tax, you’re doing a shitty job that no one else wants to do in the country…You’re cleaning toilets.  You’re driving buses at the night shift.  You’re bussing tables.  You’re doing all these things that Mitt Romney is never going to do.”

The Republicans have no job plan.  They have no health reform plan.  Their foreign policy plans have been cribbed from the Bush/Cheney playbook, which should send anyone with a brain and memory to run screaming from the room.  What they do have is a sneering plutocrat who has written off 47%  of the population as not worth his time and effort.

Romney is convinced that close to half of this nation “will not take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” He may be surprised to find out on election day that the majority of the people in this country are not only willing to take responsibility for their own lives but that they actually care for others by assuring that we will never have to say the words “President Romney.”

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Anna Daniels

I left a moribund Western Pennsylvania mill town the year that Richard M. Nixon was not impeached for crimes against the American people, and set off in search of truth, beauty, justice and a beat I could dance to. Here I am.


  1. avatarAndy Cohen says

    “My neighbors have suffered and some of them died when they lost their jobs and had no health care. They died. Does that count as skin in the game? Or is that merely an applause line in a Republican presidential debate?”

    Applause line. It’s nothing more than an applause line to these people. You don’t have insurance? Too bad. You deserve to die then.

  2. avatarJack says

    Truly a passionate missive from the “underground.” Thank you Anna

    I was floored when I heard Romney actually say this, although I knew he believed.

    I thought of my father who served in WWII and Korea who now has VA benefits to cover his plethora of ailments at 87 years of age. If it weren’t for his access to “sponge” of the rest of us, then he and my mother would be living with me instead of the home they bought and paid for. The one they had to take out a reverse mortgage because the savings and loan for which my mother worked for loyally went belly up along with her retirement into which she dutifully paid for years.

    It is unfortunate, however, that they will probably vote for Romney because they are loyal Republicans, despite the contempt he and his ilk have for them.

  3. avatarGoatskull says

    One question I have is where did he even come up with 47%? To imply that 47% are not paying income tax is a far stretch if there ever was one, even with the large amount of people unemployed. The other thing that he seems to overlook or just won’t acknowledge is that a good chunk of the elderly who are not working and are depending on SSN are themselves Republicans who are going to vote for him or should I say WERE going to vote for him. He probably shot his own foot. Granted it was a private event but it wasn’t well thought out to assume there would not have been some type of recording going on that would make it into Youtube land.

    • avatarGoatskull says

      In fact, a good chunk of war veterans who depend on their VA benefits and are quite gung ho about the wars were in and the defense industry in general vote Republican, yet I guess they’re still moochers. I wonder how he’d feel about government subsidized magic underwear for Mormon military vets.

    • avatarAnna Daniels says

      People who receive unemployment pay federal income taxes on it! Now they may have enough other deductions to get it all back, but it is taxable income. Ironic, huh?

    • avatarAndy Cohen says

      The 47% is actually more or less accurate. It reflects the percentage of people who don’t pay federal income tax, either because they don’t make enough or because they qualify for certain exemptions in the tax code, such as the earned income tax credit, or the child tax credit, mortgage credit, etc. The majority of those folks still pay payroll taxes, though.

      • avatar says

        The only ones who don’t pay social security taxes are the ones like Romney who get all their income from capital gains. Only people who actually work for a living pay social security taxes, and there are no deductions or exemptions from social security taxes. Thanks to Ronald Reagan and Alan Greenspan, self-employed workers pay double the social security taxes that people who work for someone else pay which amounts to 13.3% because Obama has reduced them by 2% temporarily. Normally it’s 15.3% which is more than the 13% capital gains tax that Romney paid. To reiterate Romney pays NO income or social security tax, just capital gains because of the “carried interest” loophole. And that’s only on the money he earns in the US. Most of his money is earned by corporations registered in the Cayman Islands and other no tax jurisdictions.

    • avatar says

      47%: sounds like about what my effective tax rate was back in the good old days when I had one job that paid about twice what the three I have now do combined. I was happy to pay it then, and I’ll be happy if I’m ever so lucky to earn so much as to be able to afford to pay it again…

      -Thankful to be working at all, and hoping the taxes I pay today will be there in the form of support systems I might need tomorrow

  4. avatar says

    I’m stunned by that Annenberg Public Policy Center Fact Check: huge numbers of low-income retired oldsters are going to vote for Richie Rich? (Credit for that moniker, which I think is a better fit than “sneering plutocrat,” goes to NYT columnist Maureen Dowd. Also, to be fair and accurate, RR never called the 47% “moochers” in his now-infamous Boca Raton remarks.)

    But still and all, RR cannot repress a capacity to show his earnest, honest, hard-working Mormon self. Never mind that he managed to categorize, objectify, condescend to and dismiss an entire segment of the American electorate whom he doesn’t even realize are largely in his pocket. It’s amazing. It’s terrible. It’s sad. The guy is clearly not ready for prime time.

    But there he is — shape-shifting positions at every turn, banking campaign millions from reprehensible Tea Partiers and Big Business, misspeaking when our Libyan ambassador dies, embracing the the idea of war with Iran and hugging young Paul Ryan-Rand. We have to put Richie Rich out of his misery on November 6.

  5. avatarAnnie says

    Love this installment, Anna! Thanks for keeping the conversation flowing.

    Maybe Romney meant to say that he doesn’t pay taxes on 47% of his income.

  6. avatarAnna Daniels says

    “(Romney) also confirmed the worst suspicions about who he is: an entitled rich guy with no understanding of how people who aren’t rich actually live.

    The thing about not having much money is you have to take much more responsibility for your life. You can’t pay people to watch your kids or clean your house or fix your meals. You can’t necessarily afford a car or a washing machine or a home in a good school district. That’s what money buys you: goods and services that make your life easier. ”
    Ezra Klein has written a must read article that takes down Romney’s argument that the 47% take no responsibility for themselves.