This is a point that I would like both political parties in this country to grasp. It would be nice if a few of the talking heads on cable news and talk radio grasped the same concept. The reason that this is such a revelation is that in the hidden camera videos of Mitt Romney making casual and inflammatory remarks about poor people to rich donors he makes the comment that 47% of people in the United States pay no income tax and proceeds to use interchangeably “lower taxes” and “lower income tax.” This roughly parallels comments made in the past year by conservative pundits about nearly fifty percent of Americans pay no (income) tax and, therefore, are not invested in the American system. The only part of the system they are invested in is the welfare state and are merely dependent upon the state.
Leaving alone the comments in Romney’s speech about those people voting for President Obama merely because they are dependent upon the state and feel entitled to food and housing, the message Romney and pundits have been giving is that people who do not pay income tax (usually because they do not earn enough money to pay taxes–if they even have a job–or, alternately, because their income is well protected by offshore tax havens or they otherwise show a loss–people who likely will not vote for President Obama anyway) are not invested in the system, have little interest in the message of lower taxes (a fallacy), and will definitely vote for President Obama (also a fallacy).
The counter to these statements from the Democratic establishment is to immediately point out how wealthy the Republicans are and how the (income) tax policies only benefit those who already have money. This is done obliquely and manages to keep the debate about whether or not people do or should pay (income) tax.
There are kernels of truth to the debate, but I would like to take a moment to debunk one of the premises without actually getting at which political party I am likely to vote for this coming November. That is: I pay taxes.
This is only remarkable in this debate because, as a poor graduate student whose income hovers around subsistence level (and, yes, I feel entitled to food and housing), I do not pay the type of income tax usually discussed in this debate.1 Yet I do pay a payroll tax–that is to say, an interest free loan to the government that I am likely to get back at the end of every year (certainly investing me, and everyone else, in the system). I also pay both medicare and social security taxes, which I would like to get back at some point in my life. And those are just on my income.
I also pay taxes when I purchase gas or go out to eat. When I purchase books and school supplies. When purchase air-fare, pay tolls, or register my car. I When I purchase clothing and food.2 Anyone who has property pays property tax. Even if I get back the money I loaned the government at the end of the year, I still pay all of these other taxes, usually the more regressive taxes that hit people without money at a significantly disproportionate rate. I am also willing to pay these taxes and if, at some point in my life, I have enough money to owe taxes to the government, then I would be happy to do so (largely because it means my income would be higher than it currently is). In the meantime, I would like both parties to realize that my decision about which party I will vote for has little to do with how much money I currently possess or how much money I do or do not pay in income tax and, most importantly, that I do, in fact, pay taxes. We all do.
1That said, I have had to pay Missouri income tax most of the years I have lived here.
2I am in my fourth year in Missouri and this one still offends me.