THE SECRET RECORDING OF WILLARD MITT ROMNEY

This past May 2012, Willard Mitt Romney attended a $50,000 per plate private fundraiser in Boca Raton, Florida.  Romney didn’t know that the fundraiser was being “secretly videotaped” and during a questioning period, Romney explained his views on half of the voting public. This now infamous video made its way to Mother Jones’ magazine and was released by journalist David Corn.  The highlight of the video featured the following statement by Romney:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percentho 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. … These are people who pay no income tax. … My job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Romney’s distorted 47% comments about Americans who don’t pay income taxes are a favorite talking point for many conservative Republicans, who often use them as evidence that America’s expenses are paid by a relatively small portion of the populace, while the rest — in Romney’s words — don’t “take personal responsibility” for themselves.  What is missing from the discussion is an identification of who makes up this 47%.

According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, 53.6% of Americans pay a portion of their income in federal income taxes, and 46.4% don’t.  Of those who don’t, 61% (28.3% of the population) pay payroll taxes, such as Social Security and Medicare, but have enough deductions and tax credits that their federal income tax liability has shrunk to zero. Basically, 81.9% of the population is gainfully employed and provides some measure of their income to the federal government.  As for the rest, 10.3% of the population, 22% of non-income tax payers are elderly and likely retired.  An additional 6.9% are non-elderly but have incomes below $20,000 poverty line.  It’s not as though the rest of the 47% (actually, 46%) are doing especially well because almost 90% of this group consists of households making less than $50,000 per year, and 80% make less than $30,000. The remainder is mostly composed of higher-income households that benefit from significant tax credits for children and education.

About 162,000 Americans among the top 10% of earners avoid paying any federal income tax. This includes approximately 3,000 people in the top 0.1%, a group who make more than $2,000,000 per year.  A large part of their low tax rate, The New York Times’ Bruce Bartrlett suggested, lies in the fact that many — like Romney — derive most of their income from capital gains, which are taxed at only 15%. To further reduce their liability, many are able to offset their taxes because of losses that they took in previous years. Alternately, some invest in tax-free municipal bonds or take advantage of a slew of other tax loopholes.  Willard Mitt Romney is part of this group.

As Ezra Klein explained in an article recently published in The Washington Post, many tax cuts for the poor were enacted to make tax cuts for the rich “more politically palatable.”  The tax breaks passed into law in Reagan’s second term and Bush’s tenure were accompanied by large increases in the number of households that were exempted from paying taxes. In Reagan’s last few years in office, the percentage of households not paying taxes jumped by more than 10%. Under Bush, it increased by more than 25%.

Jim Messina, campaign manager of Obama for America, responded to the Romney tape with a statement:  “It’s shocking that a candidate for President of the United States would go behind closed doors and declare to a group of wealthy donors that half the American people view themselves as ‘victims,’ entitled to handouts, and are unwilling to take ‘personal responsibility’ for their lives. It’s hard to serve as president for all Americans when you’ve disdainfully written off half the nation.”

The clips from the private Romney fundraiser provide astounding insight into a candidate who has closely guarded his true feelings as he tries to find an approach that works with the small percentage of voters he believes are still persuadable.  But that’s not all that the video revealed.

In the video, Romney also commented about on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.  Romney said that the Palestinians did not want peace and only sought the destruction of Israel, and that he would not actively pursue the peace process but he would instead seek to “kick the ball down the field,” and that he had paid no real attention when a former secretary of state had told him that peace might be possible in the Middle East.  Romney’s comments represent a drastic break with US policy which has supported a two-state solution since the Clinton administration.

On Wednesday, October 3, 1012, Romney and President Obama will meet in their first televised debate.  Romney is a skilled debater, having participated in19 debates during the Republican primaries.  President Obama, while an articulate speaker, has not debated in four years and may be a bit “rusty.”  However, the President’s biggest debate asset is the fact that he has been engrossed in all of the issues for the past 3-1/2 years.  Romney’s biggest debate challenge is that he must be specific and accurate in his responses, otherwise his campaign is dead.

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