Ask someone what conservatives have in common and you’re likely to hear something about cutting taxes. As it turns out, the modern conservative movement would like to see taxes increased on one very specific group of people: struggling Americans who owed no federal income taxes in the aftermath of the Wall Street collapse. At the same time, conservatives insist that the jobless prefer government handouts to honest work. Though they decry any attempt to raise marginal tax rates on the wealthiest as some sort of attack on success, it appears conservatives are the ones waging class warfare.
“The New Republican Orthodoxy”: Raising Taxes On The Poor
Heritage Foundation Portrays Those Who Pay No Income Taxes As “The Non-Taxpaying Public” Who “Paid Nothing.” From the Heritage Foundation: “One of the most worrying trends in the Index [of Dependence on Government] is the coinciding growth in the non-taxpaying public. The percentage of people who do not pay federal income taxes, and who are not claimed as dependents by someone who does pay them, jumped from 14.8 percent in 1984 to 49.5 percent in 2009. This means that in 1984, 34.8 million tax filers paid no taxes; in 2009, 151.7 million paid nothing.” [Heritage.org, 2/8/12]
Fox News’ Sean Hannity Has Repeatedly Claimed That Half The Country Doesn’t Pay Taxes. Here is a selection of statements Sean Hannity made on his Fox News program between April 2010 and February 2012:
“Here’s what I don’t understand. Fifty percent of people aren’t paying taxes, households. Fifty percent of households are. What — where does this end? Fifty percent of people say the tax rates are about fair. Fifty percent say it’s not fair. So the people that are paying say it’s not fair. The people that are not paying say it’s fair.” [Fox News, Hannity, 4/15/10]
“But here’s my question to you, as we watch all of this unfold, you know, right now it seems that America is at a cross roads. We have 50 percent of Americans don’t pay taxes.” [Fox News, Hannity, 7/21/11]
“All right, look 10 percent pays 70 percent of the bill, half don’t pay anything. Fair share, fair share, he’s [President Obama’s] got us four trillion in new debt.” [Fox News, Hannity, 9/19/11]
“Forty-seven percent of Americans don’t pay taxes.” [Fox News, Hannity, 1/26/12]
“Here’s the problem I think you’ll [sic] going to face as president. Forty-seven percent of Americans don’t pay taxes. Forty-seven million Americans are on food stamps right now, dependent on the government for a check. Jim DeMint said the other day half the country is paying for the other half in some way, shape, matter or form, that numbers going to go up to 40 percent paying for 60 percent. If seems like an entitlement mentality has set in, in the minds and the hearts of a lot of people in this country.” [Fox News, Hannity, 2/2/12]
Conservative Activists Launched “We Are The 53 Percent” Site To Decry Americans Who Don’t Pay Income Taxes. From the Washington Post: “Conservative activists have created a Tumblr called ‘We are the 53 percent’ that’s meant to be a counterpunch to the viral ‘We are the 99 percent’ site that’s become a prominent symbol for the Occupy Wall Street movement. The Tumblr is supposed to represent the 53 percent of Americans who pay federal income taxes, and its assumption is that the Wall Street protesters are part of the 46 percent of the country who don’t. ‘We are the 53 percent’ was originally the brainchild of Erick Erickson, founder of RedState.org, who worked together with Josh Trevino, communications director for the right-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation, and conservative filmmaker Mike Wilson to develop the site, according to Trevino. The overriding message is that the protesters have failed to take personal responsibility, blaming their economic troubles on others. ‘Suck it up you whiners. I am the 53 percent subsidizing you so you can hang out on Wall Street and complain,’ writes Erickson, in the Tumblr’s inaugural post.” [Washington Post, 10/10/11, emphasis added]
WSJ: Increasing Taxes On Those So Poor They Don’t Owe Federal Income Tax Is “The New Republican Orthodoxy.” From the Wall Street Journal: “And [then-presidential candidate Jon Huntsman] agrees with the new Republican orthodoxy that the half of American households no longer paying income tax – mainly working poor families and seniors – should be brought onto the income tax rolls. ‘Marco Rubio was right when he said we don’t have enough people paying taxes in this country,’ he said, referring to the senator from Florida.” [Wall Street Journal, 8/21/11]
House Majority Leader Cantor Said “Everybody Should Have Some Skin In The Game, Even If It’s A Dollar.” During an appearance at Rice University, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) said: “You speak about sort of the fairness issue in the tax code, and I agree that the tax code does not breed fair results. And we’ve got to look to see and make sure it’s a balanced approach. But right now what you have is almost I think almost 46, 47 percent of the people of this country don’t pay any income taxes. Now to me, I gotta ask, is that fair? I mean I think everybody should have some skin in the game, even if it’s a dollar, we ought to have people willing to make sure, or making sure that they’re part of what we’re trying to do.” [Cantor Remarks via YouTube.com, 11/10/11]
- Cantor Decries Democratic Proposals To Tax The Wealthy As “Class Warfare.” In a Washington Post op-ed, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) wrote: “In fact, the Obama administration’s anti-business, hyper-regulatory, pro-tax agenda has fueled economic uncertainty and sent the message from the administration that ‘we want to make it harder to create jobs.’ […] But the politics of division have reared up, fueled by efforts to incite class warfare. For example, though he often talks about millionaires, billionaires and corporate jet owners paying their ‘fair share,’ behind closed doors the president admits to wanting to raise taxes on individuals making $200,000 per year and families and small businesses earning $250,000 per year.” [Cantor Op-Ed, Washington Post, 8/21/11]
Mitt Romney On “Almost Half Of Americans That Are Not Paying Income Tax”: “It’s A Real Problem” That Could Undo Our Democracy. At a town hall meeting in Florida, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said: “This is a problem. There was a—Ronald Reagan used to say, he was quoting a philosopher but I think it was really his own view as well, he used to say, look, if you get to a point where people recognize they can vote themselves money from the treasury, they will do so and ultimately kill the country. And I think it’s a real problem when you have half of Americans that are, almost half of Americans that are not paying income tax. Of course you have a lot of people out of work that aren’t gonna pay tax. My own view with regards to tax policy is that we ought to provide help to the people who’ve been hurt most by the Obama economy, and that’s the middle class. It’s not those at the very low end, it’s certainly not those at the very high end.” [Romney Remarks via RawStory.com, 9/21/11]
- Romney Accused Obama Of “Class Warfare.” From the Boston Globe: “Wrapping up his final event before voters head to the polls tonight, Mitt Romney ended on a confident and relaxed note here this morning. Wearing a blue sweater and jeans, the former Massachusetts governor continued to focus on President Obama and reiterated the sharp rhetoric he first deployed last night, saying that Obama’s policies will ‘substitute envy for ambition and poison the American spirit by pitting one American against another and engaging in class warfare.’” [Boston Globe, 1/3/12]
During Her Presidential Campaign, Michele Bachmann Called For Increasing Income Tax Rates For The Poor. From the Wall Street Journal: “Republican presidential candidates have been resolutely opposed to tax increases in the debate over the nation’s budget straits, but Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann this week suggested there’s one group that needs to be paying more: poor people who pay nothing now. At a town-hall meeting Tuesday given by the South Carolina Christian Chamber of Commerce in Columbia, a questioner noted that major U.S. corporations are paying ‘very few dollars of federal income taxes, if any.’ He prefaced his point by saying the Bible advises us to render unto Caesar what Caesar is due. Ms. Bachmann turned the conversation elsewhere: ‘Part of the problem is today, only 53% pay any federal income tax at all; 47% pay nothing,’ the former federal tax attorney said. ‘We need to broaden the base so that everybody pays something, even if it’s a dollar.’” [Wall Street Journal, 7/21/11, emphasis added]
- Bachmann Said President Obama’s Proposal To Tax Millionaires Was “Warfare” Against Small Businesses. From the New York Times: “In a variation of Congressional Republicans’ accusations that the president’s proposals to increase taxes on millionaires amounted to ‘class warfare,’ Mrs. Bachman accused Mr. Obama of waging ‘warfare on the millions of small businesses like the Sukup company.’ As she has in the past, Mrs. Bachmann said the government should look only at spending cuts, not increasing revenue. She reiterated proposals she has made on the campaign trail to revive the economy: lower corporate taxes, repeal ‘job-killing’ regulations and ‘Obamacare,’ and grant American companies a holiday to bring overseas earnings home without tax consequences.” [New York Times, 9/19/11]
In Floor Speech, NRSC Chairman John Cornyn Criticized High Percentage Of Filers With No Federal Income Tax Liability In 2009. From the Huffington Post: “Take Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who complained over the summer about Americans who escape federal taxes — and worse, get help from the government. ‘A majority of American households paid no income tax in 2009. Zero. Zip. Nada. No income tax was paid by 51 percent of the households in America in 2009,’ Cornyn said with derision in a Senate floor speech. ‘Actually, to show how out of whack things have gotten, 30 percent of American households actually made money from the tax system by way of refundable tax credits — the earned income tax credit, among others,’ complained Cornyn, holding that fact out as evidence that the tax system needs to be fixed, presumably so those people pay more.” [Huffington Post, 10/30/11]
- Cornyn Criticized President Obama For “Decid[ing] To Go Into The Class-Warfare Mode” By Proposing Tax Increases As Part Of Debt Negotiations. From the Wall Street Journal: “Mr. Cornyn imagines the president with an angel sitting on one shoulder and a devil on the other: ‘He’s listening to the devil, who’s telling him, ‘Don’t make a deal.’ Paul Ryan in the House proposed a constructive solution to . . . our fiscal problems. And rather than engage and propose something constructive himself . . . [the president] decided to go into the class-warfare mode, where, as you know, you can’t raise taxes enough to solve the problem.’” [Wall Street Journal, 12/10/11, ellipses and brackets original]
Sen. Orrin Hatch On Income Tax Statistics: The Poor “Need To Share Some Of The Responsibility.” In a floor speech, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said: “It is pretty irrefutable that the bottom 51 percent of all wage earners of all households do not pay income taxes. The top 1 percent of the so-called wealthy pay 38 percent of all income taxes; the top 10 percent are paying 70 percent of all income tax; the top 50 percent pay somewhere near 90 percent of all income taxes; 51 percent don’t pay anything. But Democrats say, well, they pay payroll taxes. Everybody does that because that is Social Security, and they pay about one-third of what they are going to take out over the years in Social Security. On ObamaCare, a family of four earning over $80,000 a year gets subsidies. Think about that. And that is what we call the poor? We wonder why the money doesn’t go far enough? When are we going to wake up and realize that the other side just spends and spends and spends. They want to tax and tax and tax so they can spend some more. My gosh. When are we going to wake up in this country and realize they are spending us into oblivion? I hear how they are so caring for the poor and so forth. The poor need jobs, and they also need to share some of the responsibility. We don’t want the very poor people who are in poverty to pay income taxes—but 51 percent of all households?” [Hatch Floor Speech, 7/6/11]
- In Same Speech, Hatch Said President’s Call For Taxes On The Wealthy Was “A Shameful Display Of Class Warfare.” In the same July 6, 2011, floor speech, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said: “Last week, in a shameful display of class warfare, the President did specifically call for some tax increases on the rich. That includes 800,000 small businesses, by the way, where 70 percent of the jobs come from.” [Hatch Floor Speech, 7/6/11]
Conservatives Downplay The Hardship Of Poverty, Claim The Unemployed Are “Slackers” And Drug Users
Heritage Foundation: Poverty Overstated Because “Typical Poor Family” Has Cable TV, Video Game System, Microwave, Refrigerator. From a July 2011 Heritage Foundation report: “For decades, the U.S. Census Bureau has reported that over 30 million Americans were living in ‘poverty,’ but the bureau’s definition of poverty differs widely from that held by most Americans. In fact, other government surveys show that most of the persons whom the government defines as ‘in poverty’ are not poor in any ordinary sense of the term. […] In 2005, the typical household defined as poor by the government had a car and air conditioning. For entertainment, the household had two color televisions, cable or satellite TV, a DVD player, and a VCR. If there were children, especially boys, in the home, the family had a game system, such as an Xbox or a PlayStation. In the kitchen, the household had a refrigerator, an oven and stove, and a microwave. Other household conveniences included a clothes washer, clothes dryer, ceiling fans, a cordless phone, and a coffee maker. The home of the typical poor family was not overcrowded and was in good repair. In fact, the typical poor American had more living space than the average European. The typical poor American family was also able to obtain medical care when needed. By its own report, the typical family was not hungry and had sufficient funds during the past year to meet all essential needs. Poor families certainly struggle to make ends meet, but in most cases, they are struggling to pay for air conditioning and the cable TV bill as well as to put food on the table. Their living standards are far different from the images of dire deprivation promoted by activists and the mainstream media.” [Heritage.org, 7/19/11]
- Sen. Rand Paul Cited Heritage Finding In Op-Ed. In an op-ed published by the Chicago Sun-Times, Sen. Paul (R-KY) wrote: “Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation has profiled the typical poor household in America. The average poor household has a car, air conditioning, two color televisions, cable or satellite TV, a DVD player and an Xbox. Its home is in good repair and bigger than the average (non-poor) European home. They report that in the past year they were not hungry, were able to obtain medical care as necessary and could afford all essential needs. […] This context does not negate the fact that there are truly needy Americans. But with a national debt of $14.3 trillion and increasing structural deficits, we must be more precise in both how we talk about poverty in America and whom we decide to target with scarce federal resources. We need to ask: Are we targeting federal programs to those most in need? Are federal poverty programs accomplishing their goals? Are some programs creating unnecessary and unhealthy dependence on government? If poverty is in any way a death sentence, it is big government that has acted as the judge and jury – conscripting poor Americans into a lifetime of dependence on a broken and ineffective federal government.” [Paul Op-Ed, Chicago Sun-Times via Nexis, 9/25/11]
Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly: “How Can You Be Poor And Have All This Stuff?” On the July 20, 2011, edition of The O’Reilly Factor, host Bill O’Reilly had the following exchange with Fox News contributor Lou Dobbs:
O’REILLY: Eighty-two percent have a microwave. This is 82 percent of American poor families. 78 percent have air conditioning. More than one television, 65 percent; cable or satellite TV, 64 percent — thank God —
DOBBS: Amen, brother.
O’REILLY: Cell phones, 55 percent; personal computer 39 percent and as we said that is a 6-year-old consumption survey, so these numbers are way up. How can you be so poor and have all this stuff?
DOBBS: Well, that’s what Robert Rector at the Heritage Foundation in this study is pointing out. That most families living in defined poverty, that is less than $22,000 a year in income, have not only a microwave but they have an oven, they have a dishwasher, they have a dryer. They have personal — they have children; X boxes and PlayStations are in the home in the typical family defined as poor by the government.
It is really extraordinary to think about these conveniences that are enjoyed by the people for whom we give great care and consideration, that is the poor. But those of us who still think back to when we were younger who didn’t have a television set, we were poor. We didn’t get a television set until I was in high school.
We didn’t feel like we missed a lot at that point. They didn’t have cable then. But it is really interesting to see what a middle class family then and a middle class family now.
O’REILLY: Well certain poverty is defined. But what I think this is all about is the underground economy. That a lot of people who report low wages are making a ton of money — not a ton — but are making decent money off the books. [Fox News, The O’Reilly Factor, 7/20/11]
Sen. DeMint: Businesses “Can’t Get Employees To Come Back To Work Because They Are Getting Unemployment” And “Gaming The System.” On CNN’s State of the Union, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) had the following exchange with host Candy Crowley:
DEMINT: We have to have unemployment. But the longer you make it the more perverse incentives you create. Candy, I have talked to a lot of businesses in South Carolina who can’t get employees to come back to work because they are getting unemployment and they’re getting food stamps and they say call me when unemployment runs out.
CROWLEY: That can’t be the bulk of people who are unemployed — you don’t think the bulk of people, the 14 million Americans who are out of work, actually just prefer to stay on unemployment benefits?
DEMINT: No. There are a lot of people who desperately need it and we need to make sure that we have that safety net in place, but we also have to realize there are a lot of people gaming the system right now. And we need to do better than we have done with just extending benefits, there have to be incentives for people to get back to work. These have to phase out in a way that we haven’t done it before. [CNN, State of the Union, 9/4/11, emphasis added]
Republicans In 11 States (And Democrats In New Mexico and Iowa) Proposed Drug Testing For Unemployment Benefits In 2010-2011. According to the National Association of State Workforce Agencies, Republican state legislators in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia introduced legislation to require drug testing for recipients of unemployment benefits. New Mexico’s version of this law was proposed by a Democrat, and a Democrat also authored a second such bill in Iowa. [NASWA.org, 12/14/11]
House GOP’s Evidence For Drug Testing The Jobless: “None That They’ve Been Willing To Share.” From the Huffington Post:
[A] major obstacle to those proposals is that federal law does not allow states to deny unemployment benefits for reasons not related to the circumstances of a person’s unemployment — though 20 states do have laws disqualifying workers from receiving benefits if they’re fired for a drug-related reason.
The legislation percolating through the states culminated in Congress, where Republicans in the House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday to allow states to do all the drug testing they want. NASWA director Rich Hobbie, who’s worked in the unemployment insurance field since 1975, said it’s the first time a bill to drug test the unemployed has made it so far. The fate of the provision is currently in the hands of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has said he finds it ridiculous.
The House legislation sends a message: Not all unemployed are created equal; some would rather smoke pot than work. Accordingly, a portion of the huge amount the government has spent on unemployment benefits — $160 billion in 2010 alone — has been a waste.
What evidence do Republicans have that drug use is a problem among the unemployed? None that they’ve been willing to share. Ask a Republican politician’s staff for additional information on his or her anecdote about the stoned jobless, and they’ll tell you it’s just something they hear about all the time back in their districts, and you have to take their word for it. [Huffington Post, 12/16/11, emphasis added]
- GOP Bill Also Required Recipients To Have A High School Diploma. From Mother Jones: “Not content with simply slashing benefits, Republicans also want to impose new requirements on unemployment benefit seekers. Their bill would mandate that all UI recipients hold high school diplomas or GEDs and would allow states to drug-test applicants. But the bill doesn’t provide any money to pay for those new hurdles, putting that burden on already cash-strapped state governments.” [Mother Jones, 12/14/11]
Gov. Haley Said “I So Want Drug Testing,” And Exaggerated Number Of Failed Tests. From the Huffington Post: “South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) said this year, ‘I so want drug testing. I so want it.’ She claimed that of hundreds of people wanting work with a local employer, half flunked a drug test. ‘We don’t have an unemployment problem,’ she said. ‘We have an education and poverty problem.’ Upon investigation, however, the claim proved completely untrue. It turned out that less than 1 percent of the local employer’s hires tested positive.” [Huffington Post, 12/16/11]
GOP Congressman Claimed Unemployed Can’t Get Work “Because They Simply Cannot Pass A Drug Test.” From the Huffington Post: “During a debate on the floor of the House of Representatives this week, Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) suggested the unemployed can’t find jobs because of their own bad decisions. ‘I have been back in my district, and we do town halls all the time,’ Reed said. ‘And what I’ve heard from small business owners across our district is that one of the main reasons that they cannot hire individuals is because they simply cannot pass a drug test.’” [Huffington Post, 12/16/11]
February 2012: House GOP Worked Drug Testing Into Payroll Tax Cut Deal. According to the Huffington Post: “Lawmakers signed off on the final details of the bill to extend a payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits Thursday, likely clearing the way for the $152 billion measure to pass before Congress takes a break next week. […] While the agreement prevents extended federal unemployment benefits from expiring, it adds several conditions, including a Republican proposal to allow states to drug test the jobless for the first time. It will also reduce the duration of federal benefits, which kick in for workers who use up the standard 26 weeks of state benefits. Under the deal, the maximum duration of combined state and federal benefits will gradually decline from 99 to 73 weeks.” [Huffington Post, 2/16/12]
- House Republicans Have Not Held Promised Hearing On Drug Use Among The Unemployed. According to the Huffington Post: “In February, Congress passed a law that will eventually allow states to drug test some workers who apply for unemployment insurance. Congressional Republicans who supported the measure had acknowledged that they didn’t have much information on the problem, but they said they would hold a hearing in the spring to gather some data. ‘We’re going to have a hearing on that next year,’ Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) told HuffPost in December. ‘I think we do need to get more data.’ Camp chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees unemployment insurance. He vowed to hold a hearing on drug testing the unemployed by spring of this year, but spring has come and gone without a hearing. The committee held a hearing in April on other reforms to the unemployment insurance system, but drug use among the jobless was barely mentioned.” [Huffington Post, 6/26/12]
Rep. Steve King Warned Of “A Nation Of Slackers” Resulting From Unemployment Benefits. Speaking on the House floor on September 15, 2011, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) said: “The former Speaker of the House, Speaker Pelosi, has consistently said that unemployment checks are one of those reliable and immediate forms of economic recovery. You get a lot of bang for the buck when you pay people not to work, and they will go out and spend that money immediately. Therefore, we should pass out unemployment checks and stimulate the economy. That statement is ridiculous where I come from, Mr. Speaker, to pay people not to work and somehow in that formula it stimulates the economy. […] And the 80 million Americans that are of working age but are simply not in the workforce need to be put to work. We can’t have a Nation of slackers and then have me have to sit in the Judiciary Committee, listening to them argue that there’s work that Americans won’t do so we have to import people to do work Americans won’t do and borrow money to pay the welfare of people that won’t work. That is a foolish thing for a Nation to do. We’ve got to get this country back to work and get those people out of the slacker roles and on to the employed roles.” [King Floor Speech via GPO.gov, 9/15/11, emphasis added]