New York Times reporters Annie Lowrey (pictured) and Michael Cooper issued a hostile account on Wednesday poking at Romney's surreptitiously taped comments at a fundraiser about the 47% of Americans who don't pay income taxes, "Much of Romney's View on Taxes Conflicts With Longtime G.O.P. Stand." Was Romney truly "join[ing] the battle on social programs," as the opening line stated? And can Erick Erickson of Red State possibly just be a conservative activist, as opposed to a "conservative firebrand."
Mitt Romney decided to fully join the battle on social programs, warning in an interview Tuesday with Fox News that the nation’s spending was putting it “on a pathway that looks more European than American.”
In standing by the substance, if not the tone, of his surreptitiously recorded remarks at a private fund-raiser in May and published on Monday, Mr. Romney waded into an ideological clash pitting two strands of conservative thinking against each other: the longstanding goal of reducing the tax burden on the poor with tax credits versus the growing anxiety that the nation’s “takers” are now overtaking its “makers.”
The statistic Mr. Romney referred to at the fund-raiser came from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, which published an analysis showing that 46.4 percent of American households did not pay federal income tax in 2011. That statistic shocked many policy elites, small-government populists and members of Congress and has led to conservative hand-wringing.
The households in question consist primarily of the retired, the poor and low-income families with children, according to nonpartisan analysts. Moreover, they do pay taxes, if not income taxes: Just 8 percent of households do not pay payroll or federal income taxes, discounting the elderly.
Mr. Romney’s thinking on the matter has been shaped in part by Arthur C. Brooks, the president of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Brooks said that he had discussed his new book, “The Road to Freedom: How to Win the Fight for Free Enterprise,” with Mr. Romney, who was particularly interested in whether redistribution would lead to a disengaged electorate -- with the government paying for programs benefiting more people with dollars coming from fewer of them.
“It’s not necessarily a good thing for the country that more people are pulling more benefits out of the system than they’re paying in,” Mr. Brooks said in an interview. “That’s not a healthy thing for citizenship, and it’s not good for these people themselves either, if they feel attenuated from their government.”
The notion that too few Americans are paying income taxes has gained currency on the right in recent years. An influential 2002 Wall Street Journal editorial called the millions of American households that do not pay income tax “lucky duckies.” Last year, Erick Erickson, the conservative firebrand, started a Web site called “We Are the 53 Percent,” mocking the 99-percent theme of Occupy Wall Street and chiding Americans for failing to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
But other Republicans have argued that the focus on the people who do not pay taxes is a mistake.
In any case, the debate within the Republican Party promises to continue. On Tuesday, many conservatives criticized Mr. Romney’s comments, and some Republican candidates for the Senate distanced themselves from them. Many others said that they supported his underlying ideas.
The Times failed to flesh out a problem Republicans often cite: Citizens who don't pay taxes (who don't have "skin in the game") voting for politicians who go on to raise other people's taxes.