Mitt Romney told Soledad O’Brien this morning:
“I’m not concerned with the very poor. We have a safety net there,” Romney told CNN. “If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of the America, the 90 percent, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”
The trouble is, he’s running to be the president of a country where 46.2 million people are living below the poverty line – the highest level in nearly two decades. America is an aspirational culture – we assume that if we fall on hard times, we won’t have to stay that way. We like to think of ourselves as middle class, whether we’re struggling or exceptionally fortunate. But the reality is that the social safety net is now catching more Americans than it ever has.
And Romney is not, as he claims, concerned with keeping the safety net intact. A Center for American Progress analysis of his economic plan, for instance, found that his proposed budget cuts would necessarily result in draconian cuts to social services. Meanwhile, his tax plan would raise taxes on millions of middle class and low income families while handing an average of $150,000 to millionaires.
Romney’s trying to use the classic right-wing strategy of building resentment toward a faceless “poor” who rely on social services. But to the millions of Americans who have seen themselves or friends and family slip from middle class stability during the recession, his words might just ring hollow.
President Obama held a press conference today to urge House Republicans to pass an urgent extension to payroll tax cuts and unemployment insurance. Joining the president on stage was Rev. Dr. Robert P. Shine, vice-chair of PFAW’s African American Ministers in Action. Dr. Shine, pastor of Berachah Baptist Church in Philadelphia, was invited to represent members of his community who would be hurt by the loss of these important benefits if they aren’t renewed in January.
Rev. Dr. Robert P. Shine, fifth from left, behind the president.
Dr. Shine released a statement in support of the president’s efforts to extend tax relief to working people and unemployment insurance to Americans suffering from long-term unemployment:
“It was an honor to stand behind our President today, both literally and figuratively. Extending the payroll tax cut and extending the lifeline of unemployment insurance are two of the most important things our elected officials in Washington can do, both to help individual American families get by and to help get our economy moving again. The refusal of House Republicans to take a simple, bipartisan step on behalf of working Americans is truly shocking. While millionaires and billionaires are enjoying the lowest tax rates in decades, working families across the country are struggling to get by. For working families, $40 a paycheck from the President’s tax cut will make all the difference. For those struggling to find work, unemployment insurance means survival.
“During the Christmas season, the President is standing with working people while the GOP is continuing to protect millionaires. I’m proud to stand with the President.”
Republicans in Congress have been attracting plenty of unwanted attention for their muddled refusal to extend a payroll tax cut that will, if not passed, hit 160 million American workers with a substantial tax increase on Jan. 1. Most of that attention has focused, rightly, on their refusal to provide a tax break to working people even as they do everything in their power to ensure historically low tax rates for the wealthiest.
But in a column today, David Frum points out that it’s more than the GOP’s image as tax-cutters that’s hurting in this debate. As long as the payroll tax stays an issue, more light is shed on the bogus claim, swallowed whole by the Right and even some in the media, that “47 percent of Americans pay no taxes.” The claim has caught on despite being flatly untrue – while only 53 percent of Americans make enough money to pay federal income tax, all workers pay federal payroll taxes. The myth that half of Americans don’t contribute to the federal budget is convenient for GOP talking points, but it just isn’t true.
[U]nlike House Republicans, I am not in thrall to another Journal teaching: the claim that the poorer 47% of Americans “pay no tax.” This claim rests on denying the existence of payroll taxes altogether. If you deny that payroll taxes exist, it becomes very difficult to discuss the consequences of reducing or remitting them, including some arguably serious long-term consequences.
Republicans, with their “47 percent” claim, are essentially payroll tax deniers. By having a debate about cutting the payroll tax, they are being forced to admit not only that it exists, but that it can be an actual burden on working Americans.
The White House, meanwhile, has started collecting compelling stories via Twitter from individual Americans of what an extra $40 per paycheck (the savings from the payroll tax for a family earning $50,000 a year) will mean to American families. You can follow and contribute your own story with the hashtag #40dollars.
Republicans in Congress, who are currently in the process of stalling a tax cut for the middle class because it would be paid for by a miniscule surtax on the wealthiest, are adamant that the president’s plan for a payroll tax break will hurt small businesses and the wealthy people they like to call “job creators.”
Today, an NPR reporter went looking for some of those job creators who would stop hiring once they’re hit by a 3.25 surcharge on their income taxes. The reporter did her due diligence and asked for names from Republican congressional leaders and business lobbyists. None of them were able to present her with a small business owner who would talk about being hurt by the millionaire’s surtax. Then she tried something new:
So next we put a query on Facebook. And several business owners who said they would be affected by the "millionaires surtax" responded.
"It's not in the top 20 things that we think about when we're making a business hire," said Ian Yankwitt, who owns Tortoise Investment Management.
Tortoise is a boutique investment firm in White Plains, N.Y. Yankwitt has 10 employees and in recent years has done a lot of hiring.
As a result, Yankwitt says he's had many conversations about hiring, "both with respect to specific people, with respect to whether we should hire one junior person or two, whether we should hire a senior person."
He says his ultimate marginal tax rate "didn't even make it on the agenda."
Yankwitt says deciding to bring on another employee is all about return on investment. Will adding another person to the payroll make his company more successful?
For Jason Burger, the motivation is similar.
"If my taxes go up, I have slightly less disposable income, yes," said Burger, co-owner of CSS International Holdings, a global infrastructure contractor. "But that has nothing to do with what my business does. What my business does is based on the contracts that it wins and the demand for its services."
Burger says his Michigan-based company is hiring like crazy, and he'd be perfectly willing to pay the surtax.
"It's only fair that I put back into the system that is the entire reason for my success," said Burger.
For the record, both Burger and Yankwitt have made campaign contributions to Democrats in the past, but they say their views on the surtax are about the economics of their businesses and not their politics.
And they're not alone.
"I, like any other American, especially a business owner, I want to make as much money as I can and I want to keep as much money in my pocket as I can, but I also believe in the greater good," says Deborah Schwarz, who owns LAC Group, an information management firm with offices nationwide and in London.
Surtax or no, Schwarz says she hopes to keep hiring.
"We're going to keep on writing proposals, going after contracts, hopefully winning them, and when we do we're going to continue to hire people," says Schwarz.
All of this contradicts the arguments about job creators being made by Republicans in Congress.
Republicans are stopping a tax break for the middle class because of a myth about “job creators” they they aren’t able to back up with any actual examples, while actual job creators are keeping on investing in their own futures and that of their employees.
Every day all over the country we hear that what the American people need most are jobs in our communities. President Obama has proposed a jobs bill that would help create these jobs while rebuilding crumbling infrastructure and make sure our teachers, firefighters and police officers stay employed doing the things that make this country safe and stronger.
Yesterday, People For the American way helped in the fight to create jobs by hosting a teleconference with our members, highlighting our ongoing work to support the President’s American Jobs Act and hearing from top White House officials about where we need to go to move the Act forward. We also had the privilege of attending a special White House meeting where the President, Vice President and top staff reiterated their commitment to putting Americans back to work. Their passionate words energized the progressive audience as we continue to engage in this very important fight.
The American Jobs Act is a proactive step in the right direction but faces conservative opposition. We need to continue to put the pressure on those that seek to put Big Business and the wealthy ahead of the children and families who will bear the brunt the far-right agenda.
For more information on the American Jobs Act visit http://www.whitehouse.gov/economy/jobsact
In an interview with the Daily Beast, transportation secretary and former GOP congressman Ray LaHood comes right out and says it: the current Republican Congress cares more about defeating President Obama than about creating jobs.
LaHood is understandably most incensed about the GOP’s unwillingness to pass a simple infrastructure bill that would help repair the nation’s crumbling roads and bridge while creating thousands of jobs:
Even in the wake of a national report declaring 200 bridges structurally deficient, including one that brings tens of thousands of commuters from Virginia into Washington each day, and one that spans the home states of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, Republicans are expected to maintain their wall of opposition to a new round of stimulus spending on infrastructure. The infrastructure bill would put thousands of people to work, says LaHood, “but because of their own personal political feelings against the president, they don’t want to hand him a victory.”
LaHood has been dropping hints for some time about his frustration, and last week he unloaded in the interview.
“The crowd that was elected the last time not only came here to do nothing, they also came to put down the president,” he says. “And the way to put him down is not to give him any kind of opportunity to be successful.”
He faults the Tea Party freshmen, but doesn’t let the GOP leadership off the hook, recalling McConnell’s remark that his No. 1 goal was to defeat Obama.
“Republicans made a decision right after the election—don’t give Obama any victories. The heck with putting people to work, because we can score points,” LaHood says.
He goes on to compare the current GOP Congress to his own freshman Republican class, the Newt Gingrich-led “Contract With America” class:
There were sharp edges in that GOP freshman class, but the difference is, “They didn’t come here to do nothing. They came here to vote on things, to make change for the positive…That’s not the fact with this crowd [Tea Party].”
LaHood is still a Republican. He’s clearly still proud of his role in Gingrich’s 1994 army – which certainly had plenty of faults. But he’s noticed an important and troubling shift in how his party is approaching its role in governing. It’s a shift that all of us, regardless of party, should take note of.