It’s the spending! Romney muddles the message on non-taxpayers

Politicians are not always good at the “telephone” game. Witness Mitt Romney.

“Telephone,” as you may remember from your childhood, is the game in which one person whispers a phrase to another person, who whispers it to another, and so on, until the last person in line. When the message reaches the final set of ears, it’s usually been misspoken so many times as to be unrecognizable to the original speaker.

That game came to mind this week when a video surfaced, depicting Romney speaking at a May 17 fund-raiser in Boca Raton, Fla. Romney is recorded saying, in part:

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what …

And I mean the president starts off with 48, 49 — he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax.

All this was by way of explaining why he would not even attempt to sell these Americans on his message of low taxes against Obama’s plan to soak the rich.

After this revelation, liberals declared Romney’s candidacy dead (don’t worry; the man trailing Barack Obama by less than 3 percentage points on average has been similarly pronounced “dead” many times before). Conservatives, meanwhile, argued about whether Romney’s words would hurt his chances because they were, by his own admission, “not elegantly stated” — or whether Romney was telling a hard truth about government dependence that voters would receive well.

As much as I’d like to believe the latter group is correct, and as much as there is a fundamental truth here about the size, scope and role of government that distinguishes Romney from Obama in this race, I have to point out a problem. The “telephone” problem.

Set aside Romney’s incorrect conflation of: a) people who pay no federal income taxes, b) people who are dependent on government, and c) people who support Obama. There is some overlap among these groups, but they hardly represent a monolithic bloc totaling 47 percent of of the electorate.

The “47 percent” statistic itself is well-circulated among conservatives, but for a very different reason.

As far as I know — and I wasn’t the first person in this game of “telephone” — that statistic began as a counter-argument to the liberal claim that “the rich” don’t pay their fair share of taxes.

In recent years, the top 1 percent of earners in America have paid more than a third of all income taxes. The top 5 percent, about three-fifths.

The bottom 50 percent bear almost none of the income-tax burden (if they have jobs, they do contribute payroll taxes) because most of them pay nothing or are even net recipients.

So, the point of this “47 percent” statistic is to refute the “fair share” claim. After all, if 47 percent pay nothing and the top 5 percent pay a majority, how can we say “the rich” aren’t paying a “fair share”?

But this is not necessarily an argument for raising taxes on the 47 percent. In fact, conservative policy created much of the 47 percent.

The child tax credit is a social-conservative initiative. The refundable Earned Income Tax Credit is largely based on the “negative income tax” proposed almost 50 years ago by conservative economist Milton Friedman.

In theory, these tax credits ought to be a way to make government smaller and lower-income workers less dependent on it, by eliminating the need for Washington to spend billions on redundant, bureaucratic (but I repeat myself) programs that have not appreciably cut the poverty rate over time.

It hasn’t worked out that way, because those programs remain. But let’s not forget the real issue here for this election, and what probably was part of that first “telephone” whisper about the size and scope of government:

It’s the spending, stupid.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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307 comments Add your comment

Tyler Durden

September 20th, 2012
6:22 am

I see a little merit to some of this thinking. However, given the vast amount of explanation, context shifting, revisionist history, and “it sure sounds likes this, but it’s really, really meant to be that” interpretation, you’ve lost the audience and a lot of credibility. Which begs the question: is this guy– or his team — anywhere near prepared or competent to lead the United States of America. And that answer requires no vetting, apologists or spin doctors.

laurie

September 20th, 2012
6:34 am

Thank you Kyle for pointing out some basic facts that some people on the right conveniently keep forgetting.

Skip

September 20th, 2012
6:54 am

I pay my son $20.00 a week for chores around the house. That he can’t afford the $40.00 a week I charge for room and board proves what a slacker he is.

spaceman109

September 20th, 2012
7:08 am

kyle, your basic point about gommint spending is well taken. i am still wondering how young mr. romney and young mr. ryan are going to balance the budget when they want to cut taxes *and* greatly increase defense spending. i still have seen no details from the romney camp about simplifying the tax code. young mr. ryan’s plans to turn medicare into a voucher system doesn’t have a prayer of working unless a serious effort is made to rein in health care costs.

no way am i voting for the incumbent, but so far the romney campaign has been more interested in responding to headlines as opposed to making a solid case for themselves. i might have to vote libertarian like i did in 2000 since at that time i had no use for the stiff suit (gore) or the empty suit (bush). by the way….president bush the younger and his supporters have ralph nader to thank for their win in 2000.

yes, i know some will say i am throwing away my vote, but right now i see no compelling reason to vote for either one of these two. i could change my mind between now and election day.

Li'l Aynie

September 20th, 2012
7:08 am

Romney and Ryan have “spilt the beans” during the election campaign, and may lose the election by their “tactlessness”.

It is apparent to anyone who hasn’t been brainwashed by FoxNews that the Romney/Ryan priorities are: 1. shower the rich with more tax cuts, 2. spend trillions more on useless cold war military weapons, 3. liquidate the middle class by raising taxes and shrinking social institutions, 4. erode the fragmented, fragile social support for children and the poor, and, 5. balance the federal budget in 30-50 years or so, if we’re still around.

Ryan was naive enough to put the plan in writing, in the form of a laughable budget bill that contains no revenue. Romney divulged it to his fat cat supporters at a $10,000-a-plate campaign event in Boca Raton.

Still, the sorry team will win the electoral votes of the poor, dumb, ungrateful southern and middle western states that receive more from the federal government than they contribute. Their insults to the base Republican voters, those unthinking clingers to their religions of hate and collections of useless guns, won’t even register.

independent thinker

September 20th, 2012
7:38 am

Thank god and praise the lord- Kyle has seen the light and maybe there is hope for us all!!So, the point of this “47 percent” statistic is to refute the “fair share” claim. After all, if 47 percent pay nothing and the top 5 percent pay a majority, how can we say “the rich” aren’t paying a “fair share”?

But this is not necessarily an argument for raising taxes on the 47 percent. In fact, conservative policy created much of the 47 percent.”"”"”"”"”"”"”"

“”"”"”"”"”

independent thinker

September 20th, 2012
7:54 am

Republican hypocrites like Paul Ryan acting as social conservatives have passed endless legislation redistributing wealth and creating the majority of the deficits. The Repubs passed the only socialist health care bill under Reagan giving the nonpaying and moochers free emergency room care at the expense of the insured and those who pay. Repubs gave away free Medicare drugs to get the ex drunk reelected in 2004. People who are not US citizens get welfare payments in the form of earned tax credits costing billions a year due to a conservative tax redistribution tax scheme engineered by Conservatives. Yet Obama reduced the number of federal workers
and is blamed for all these excesses and ballooning deficits.A bill designed to cure Reagan’s redistribution of health care responsibility and designed by Romney gets attacked daily as being socialism when it requires an individual mandate or a cure for health care moochers..
kYLE -It is refreshing to see a conservative man up to the fact that Repubs are equally responsible for this mess.So quit the redistribution tit for tat game- voters are not idiots.
As the big dog said – you are not going to solve the problem by doubling down on trickle down or kicking granny of of the nursing home.

Thomas Heyward Jr

September 20th, 2012
8:06 am

When Romney said “there are 47 percent who are with Obama, who are dependent on government, who believe that, that they are victims, who believe that government has the responsibility to care for them” he was roughly half right. Very. Roughly. What he left out is that the “other” 47 percent, those that are with HIM [Romney] are after the same thing.(Wars, drug wars, big Prison industry,Military industry and other progressive crap)
Admittedly, the number of people who are unrepentant tax feeders likely (hopefully?) lower than 94 percent. The naive, hopeful dreamer in me would peg it at probably closer to 65–75 percent. Whatever the exact number is, the simple fact of the matter is that politics—particularly in the U.S., but abroad as well—is dominated by sociopaths with megalomaniacal tendencies who are often attended to and served by sycophants with dependency issues.

The other 25–35 percent and I just wish they’d all leave us the hell alone.

buzzy

September 20th, 2012
8:08 am

I know the Republicans always say that Bush is history now. Stop talking about Bush.

However, if Obama wins, the Republicans can chalk two democratic wins up to the failure of the Bush-Cheney Administrations.

People may not think Obama is great on the economy, but they know that Bush-Cheney was terrible. The Republicans may well pay a heavy price for their misguided support of Bush.

Of course, Romney doesn’t help anything with his inept campaign style.

gm

September 20th, 2012
8:13 am

Amazing the 47% who dont pay taxes are in the southern states, and who voted for McCain, and live, you guess it Georgia, when have you ever heard of person running for President insult his own party?

The rich idiot is on tape insulting Latinos while in the comfort of his rich white friends, then runs to Florida begging for their vote, unlike poor, middle class conservatives, who have no pride when being insulted, Obama lead is growing with Latinos.

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

September 20th, 2012
8:15 am

And the same one-note wonders continue . . . .

JKL2

September 20th, 2012
8:18 am

It doesn’t matter that taxing the rich at 100% will do little to fix our deficit, let alone our debt. The rich are still evil and need to be punished.

Liberalism: Not going to be happy until everyone is as miserable as we are!

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

September 20th, 2012
8:24 am

the liberal claim that “the rich” don’t pay their fair share of taxes. In recent years, the top 1 percent of earners in America have paid more than a third of all income taxes. The top 5 percent, about three-fifths.

Kyle has his own telephone game problem. No one claims the wealthy doesn’t pay a fair share of total taxes paid by Americans. The issue is that, compared to the middle class and working Americans, they don’t pay a fair share of their income in taxes.

dahreese

September 20th, 2012
8:25 am

“… the point of this “47 percent” statistic is to refute the “fair share” claim. After all, if 47 percent pay nothing and the top 5 percent pay a majority, how can we say “the rich” aren’t paying a “fair share”?

In our present economy this arguement might hold water, but historically, it does not hold.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

September 20th, 2012
8:26 am

buzzzy, in the words of Chris Rock:

“W makes it hard for a white man to get elected President.”

or, even better:

“Is America ready for a black President? Why not — we’ve already tried retarded!”

spaceman109

September 20th, 2012
8:27 am

i notice that it has now been over 3 hours since kyle posted this essay, and so far none of the usual conservative suspects have posted. i would guess they are still trying to process that bit about the child tax credit as a conservative idea. :D

I Report (-: You Whine )-: mmm, mmmm, mmmmm! Just sayin...

September 20th, 2012
8:28 am

You can buy votes but you cannot buy prosperity.

dahreese

September 20th, 2012
8:29 am

I might add to my comment above that it isn’t the 47% who have created this economy. Dare we say tht falls to the top percents who either own or manage what used to be American corporations?

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

September 20th, 2012
8:30 am

is this guy– or his team — anywhere near prepared or competent to lead the United States of America.

Just because you run a business doesn’t mean you are a great person. Look at Chainsaw Al Dunlap and what he did to Sunbeam. Look at what those two guys did to Enron.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

September 20th, 2012
8:31 am

is this guy– or his team — anywhere near prepared or competent to lead the United States of America.

And to answer this question:

mwuahahahahahahahahahahahaha ahha

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

September 20th, 2012
8:31 am

Kyle, yes, it is the spending. But it’s the tax code, the regulatory burden, and the size and scope of a Federal government writ large that all contribute to our fiscal and economic woes.

Just under $500 billion in regulatory costs added to businesses since Obama went into office. Untold billions in giveaways to so-called “green” businesses that failed. The government can’t get out from under it’s purchase of GM because we’d lose our shirts due to the stock being so devalued.

If Bank of America and American Airlines consolidate functions to save money, why can’t the United States OF America do the same?

And to some of the usual suspects on here who will continue the “Romney is going to cut taxes on the rich” falsehood, remember that he will be cutting tax RATES, while removing tax loopholes and special interest deductions to balance the tax payments out. Revenues will remain neutral in most cases and may even rise slightly. And to you who will counter that he hasn’t specified which loopholes he’ll go after, he has already stated he’ll be looking at ALL of them. No specificity needed.

And before you go blaming or crediting any executive for a particular bill or policy implemented on his/her watch, take a bit of time to do the research on who was running the legislative branch before doing so.

You’d look a lot smarter if you did.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

September 20th, 2012
8:32 am

none of the usual conservative suspects have posted

Their moms still have them making their beds and doing chores before they run off to their jobs flipping burgers.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

September 20th, 2012
8:34 am

it’s the tax code, the regulatory burden, and the size and scope of a Federal government writ large that all contribute to our fiscal and economic woes

And the two wars started and waged over a 10 year period with nada to show for it…oh, and giving out tax cuts while waging those wars.

And also bailouts to banks….

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

September 20th, 2012
8:37 am

remember that he will be cutting tax RATES, while removing tax loopholes and special interest deductions to balance the tax payments out.

Please oh please oh please name JUST ONE of those loopholes before October 1st????
I think Ann wears the pants in that house – Mitt has no stones. I’ll bet the sexy talk in that bedroom includes the phrase “let me hold you down and cut your hair, baby”

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

September 20th, 2012
8:38 am

“i notice that it has now been over 3 hours since kyle posted this essay, and so far none of the usual conservative suspects have posted.”

That’s because at 5:00 a.m. most conservatives are getting themselves ready for something you liberals don’t understand.

Work.

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

September 20th, 2012
8:39 am

“Please oh please oh please name JUST ONE of those loopholes before October 1st????”

He did. ALL of them.

Pay attention.

JPP

September 20th, 2012
8:40 am

Kyle – Paul Ryan voted with his party (and other Dems) on just about every spending increase put forward by George W Bush and his party. Heck, he even asked for stimulus fudning for his district. Does that make him a fiscal conservative?

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

September 20th, 2012
8:41 am

Looks like Chick-A Lay has no stones,either.

spaceman109

September 20th, 2012
8:42 am

tiberius…..just because young mr. romney says he will be looking at all the tax loopholes doesn’t mean that he will actually be doing anything about them. even if he did, the k street lobbyists would spring into action and persuade congresspeople to revive those loopholes in future legislation. therefore, it is massively unlikely that the tax code could be simplified.

buzzy

September 20th, 2012
8:43 am

I think the Republicans would probably be better off dropping the whole topic of the 47%. :)

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

September 20th, 2012
8:43 am

According to studies by the Tax Policy Center, six in 10 households that pay no income taxes are working families having a tough year or two. The authors note, “most of these working households… pay federal income tax in other years, when their incomes are higher.” Many take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), originally a Republican policy that offers a tax break to low-income working parents. According to the authors, “the majority of households that receive the EITC get it for only one or two years at a time, such as when their income drops due to a temporary layoff, and pay federal income tax in most other years.” We have a social safety net, albeit one of the flimsiest in the developed world, and it is doing what it is designed to do – keeping people’s heads above water (before the crash, 39.9 percent of households paid no federal income taxes).

The Big, Fat Lie Behind Romney’s Absurd 47% Argument
http://www.alternet.org/election-2012/big-fat-lie-behind-romneys-absurd-47-argument

Lil' Barry Bailout - Vote American

September 20th, 2012
8:48 am

What’s the “lie”, Finn?

Are we just hearing things we don’t like, and calling them lies?

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

September 20th, 2012
8:51 am

spaceman @ 8:42.

With that kind of attitude, we’d still be a British colony.

Fortunately, we Americans actually believe we can accomplish things every now and again.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

September 20th, 2012
8:51 am

.just because young mr. romney says he will be looking at all the tax loopholes doesn’t mean that he will actually be doing anything about them

He won’t. Tiberius’ answer is just a way to stop that painful discussion.

H.E. Pennypacker

September 20th, 2012
8:51 am

I want to pass along kudos to Kyle for a fact based argument that does not seek to assign blame to President Obama for the current 47% figure. The President has not passed new legislation that has caused a material increase in this figure and as Kyle stated, much of it is a result of previous across the board tax cuts by the GOP. Now I wish I could say the same for Governor Romney in the tape, who was clearly insinuating what Kyle and those that deal in facts know is not the case, Obama did not create this dependency.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

September 20th, 2012
8:51 am

Yeah, spaceman, don’t question the Republicans – that is soooooo unpatriotic.

Just Saying..

September 20th, 2012
8:51 am

Let me see if I’m getting this: The GOP helped create the “47%”, and now use that as a symbol of the shiftless.

Smart politics.

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

September 20th, 2012
8:56 am

“Obama did not create this dependency.”

No, he just exacerbates and encourages it.

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

September 20th, 2012
8:56 am

“Let me see if I’m getting this: ”

You’re not.

spaceman109

September 20th, 2012
8:56 am

tiberius….back then there were no lobbyists to try and prevent our win over the british. as for accomplishing things every now and again, yes, we americans can do that. the same cannot be said about our totally dysfuntional congress where pretty much everyone on both left and right are more interested in hollering at each other instead of listening to each other.

Darwin

September 20th, 2012
8:57 am

Once again you miss the point. At the bottom income level there’s hardly any money to tax. At the top, there is. If you look at the gap between rich and poor and you will see it is widening. I do not shed tears for the wealthiest. They can and should pay more. If not, then let’s start cutting. And we’ll start with defense spending, social security, and medicare. Those things that your granny supports. Repubs aren’t for reform. If they were, there would be no talk of how Obama took money aware from Medicare. So Kyle, let’s start there and stop the nonsense.

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

September 20th, 2012
8:58 am

“Yeah, spaceman, don’t question the Republicans”

Finn, if you actually knew the English language you’d know that spaceman wasn’t questioning the Republican plan – he was dismissing it entirely. Surrendering before the battle is even engaged.

Something you know quite a lot about.

H.E. Pennypacker

September 20th, 2012
8:58 am

No, he just exacerbates and encourages it.

Any specific examples of policies that have increased and encouraged a material increase in the 47% that you care to provide or will you just blow through this like you did in not citing a single loophole you claim were provided in detail?

spaceman109

September 20th, 2012
9:00 am

oops….i forgot. there were lobbyists of a sort during the revolutionary war. they were called “loyalists”.

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

September 20th, 2012
9:00 am

So let’s just stop trying, spaceman? THAT’S your solution?

Welcome to the age of “It’s too hard”, ladies and gentlemen.

Gimme Gimme Gimme

September 20th, 2012
9:01 am

Skip – “I pay my son $20.00 a week for chores around the house. That he can’t afford the $40.00 a week I charge for room and board proves what a slacker he is.”

Well….your son is 27. ;)

spaceman109

September 20th, 2012
9:05 am

tiberius…where did you get the idea that i think we should stop trying? methinks your imagination is working overtime. you and i can try. with our own effort we can make our lives better. we just need congress to actually do something constructive instead of engaging in constant partisan bickering. that may be expecting too much since congress has not passed spending bills on time for many years now.

Just Saying..

September 20th, 2012
9:05 am

Tiberius – pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed
September 20th, 2012
8:56 am
You’re not.

And you, out of millions, do.
That can’t be smart politics, then.

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

September 20th, 2012
9:06 am

“or will you just blow through this like you did in not citing a single loophole you claim were provided in detail?”

When one says “all of them”, one doesn’t have to provide specifics, as “all” are covered in the statement.

Is English your primary language, Pennypacker?

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

September 20th, 2012
9:08 am

“where did you get the idea that i think we should stop trying? ”

Your posts. Obvious as the sun rising in the morning.