Prominent Republican officeholders are getting bolder about saying they want to raise taxes on poor people. I have written before about the bizarre conservative meme that we need to "broaden the tax base" by raising taxes on low-income people whom the Wall Street Journal editorial page has labelled, grotesquely, "lucky duckies." This is a complete reversal from the previous conservative position that the working poor, far from paying federal income tax, should receive government payments through the Earned Income Tax Credit. It's in large part thanks to the EITC that the income tax is more progressive today than it was in 1979, even though the top marginal tax rate came crashing down from 70 percent to 35 percent. (The poor continue to pay--don't you fret!--obscenely regressive payroll taxes, federal excise taxes, and state and local taxes.) Among those responsible for extending the EITC was President Ronald Reagan. Now we must condemn the Gipper for feeding the duckies.
As is often the case, Republican leaders in the public eye have been slow to state the new conservative doctrine too forthrightly. Now, it seems, they're starting to loosen up. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor last week became, I think, the highest-ranking Republican poobah to say, pretty much outright, that we need to soak the poor. More remarkable still, he said we need to do it in order to avoid raising taxes on the rich!
Cantor: We also know that over 45 percent of the people in this country don’t pay income taxes at all, and we have to question whether that’s fair. And should we broaden the base in a way that we can lower rates for everybody that pays taxes.
Q.: Just wondering, what do you do about that? Are you saying we need to have a tax increase on the 45 percent that right now pay no federal income tax?
Cantor: I’m saying that, just in a macro way of looking at it, you’ve got to discuss that issue. What is going to fund the necessary operations of the federal government. How do we allow for that to take place in a way that we can see a growing economy. Because whatever scenario you may choose to embrace about cutting the spending or reforming the entitlement programs, the necessary piece is a growing economy or you're never going to manage down and back to balance in the budget. So that's gotta be the goal. How do you deal with that? How do you deal with a shrinking pie and number of people and entities that support the operations of government, and how do you go about continuing to milk them more, if that’s what some want to do, but preserve their ability to provide the growth engine? And that leads me back to saying those at the bottom end of the income scale want nothing more than to increase their income, to get up that ladder of success. So the goal should be, how do you do that? I’ve never believed that you go and raise taxes on those who have been successful that are paying in, taking from them, so that you just hand out and give to someone else. Those someone else[s] want hand-ups. They want the ability to get up the ladder.
And ... the way you coax those at the bottom up the ladder is by taxing them? Even on its own insane terms Cantor's argument doesn't make sense. But he probably doesn't care, because he isn't interested in helping poor people or even wasting much time imagining what their lives must be like. Let's face it, poor people don't vote for guys like Cantor. Cantor's only interest is in protecting rich people from paying their fair share in taxes. If that can be achieved while appealing to tea partiers' contempt for the undeserving poor (a group that now includes the once-virtuous working poor), so much the better. Cantor knows enough not to put such contemptible remarks up on his Web site, but they were caught by Think Progress and Citizens For Tax Justice and ended up on YouTube.