It’s been about eight years since the far-right Wall Street Journal editorial page came up with the notion of “lucky duckies.” The label was used to describe the millions of Americans who don’t pay federal income taxes because they don’t earn enough money.Conservatives, it seems, still aren’t quite comfortable with these folks’ “luck.” George Will chatted with incoming House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), who intends to make things deliberately harder on those at the bottom end of the income scale. (via Harold Pollack)
Many conservatives, including Camp, believe that although most Americans should be paying lower taxes, more Americans should be paying taxes. The fact that 46.7 million earners pay no income tax creates moral hazard — incentives for perverse behavior: Free-riding people have scant incentive to restrain the growth of government they are not paying for with income taxes.
“I believe,” Camp says, “you’ve got to have some responsibility for the government you have.” People have co-payments under Medicare, and everyone should similarly have some “skin in the game” under the income tax system.
Let’s set the record straight here. When conservatives talk about nearly 47% of the country paying no income taxes, the argument tends to overlook relevant details — such as the fact that these same middle- and lower-class families still pay sales taxes, state taxes, local taxes, Social Security taxes, Medicare/Medicaid taxes, and in many instances, property taxes.
In other words, they already have some “skin in the game.” It’s not as if these folks are getting away with something — the existing tax structure leaves them out of the income tax system because they don’t make enough money to qualify.
But even if we put all of this aside, let’s appreciate the underlying point of the conservatives’ concern — for all the talk on the right about cutting taxes at every available opportunity, there’s also a drive to raise taxes on those who can least afford it. The GOP has a natural revulsion to any tax system, but there’s an eerie comfort with a regressive agenda that showers additional wealth on the rich while asking for more from lower-income workers.
In fact, the drive on the right to increase the burdens on these middle- and lower-class families is getting kind of creepy. Some on the far-right have begun calling these Americans “parasites.” Earlier this year, Fox News’ Steve Doocy went so far as to ask whether those who don’t make enough to qualify for income taxes should even be allowed to vote.
Ezra Klein asks if there’s any evidence for this Republican view that “paying federal income taxes makes you less likely to support federal spending.” Does there need to be? These are Republicans we’re talking about.
There’s a drift here, and Matthew Yglesias catches it:
… Lurking behind conservative rhetoric about the evils of government spending, is the reality of conservative hostility to taxes. And lurking behind conservative rhetoric about the evils of taxes is the reality of conservative hostility to taxing rich people. Which means that Republicans are likely to insist that any revenue-enhancing deficit-control package rely heavily on regressive measures.
Or, as he puts it in his post title, “Conservatives Can Be Persuaded to Embrace Taxes — But Only If Poor People Pay Them.”
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