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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