First, recall that most of the 46% of households that don’t pay federal income tax do pay payroll taxes, meaning they’re working. In a post called “Meet Some Makers,” my colleague Chuck Marr looks at what they do. As you’d expect given that there’s no federal tax liability on low incomes, many work in the lower paying realms of the service economy.
- 4.5 million work in retail stores.
- 3.5 million work in the restaurant and food service industry.
- 2.7 million help care for patients in hospitals and doctors’ offices and assist elderly people in nursing homes.
- 2.1 million are construction workers.
- 2.1 million work in factories and other manufacturing jobs.
- 2.0 million clean and maintain offices and other buildings.
Deciding the absolute worst theme to surface in this campaign season is just too big a challenge this early in the day. But “makers vs. takers” has to be up there.
Second, who says they were the do-nothing Congress? Did you know the House Republicans passed a tax bill before they slunk away left town and it wasn’t a tax cut?
OK, it wasn’t really a tax increase either—that would have violated their pledge. They cynically called it the Buffett Rule Act of 2012 and it amends the IRS code to provide taxpayers the opportunity to voluntarily pay more taxes than they owe in order to reduce the federal debt.
As my colleague Kathy Ruffing points out:
…the bill doesn’t merit the name. The Buffett Rule says millionaires should not pay a smaller share of their income in federal tax than less well-to-do Americans (as many millionaires now do). The House bill, however, wouldn’t change that. Nor would it raise much money to reduce the debt.
In fact, the congressional Joint Tax Committee estimates the bill would raise $135 million (that’s million with an “m”) over ten years. That’s less than 1/1000th (or 0.1 percent) of the $160 billion Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s proposal to implement the Buffett Rule would raise, assuming that policymakers will extend the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 that are scheduled to expire in December. It’s less than 1/300th (or 0.3 percent) of the still-respectable $47 billion that Senator Whitehouse’s proposal would raise, if we assume instead that policymakers will let those tax cuts expire on schedule.
Need I say, we have real problems with which we urgently need the Congress to deal, not least of which is, of course, the fiscal cliff. Yet, here they are, screwing around with tax policy to…what?…try to embarrass a billionaire?!
All of which raises the question: is it better for Congress to actually do nothing than to do stuff like this? I’d have to say it is.
And one should never forget the larger issue here: those who disparage government and its role in the economy have a vested interest in dysfunction. They tell you government is broken and then they make sure to break it.
(Bruce Bartlett nicely covers this silliness as well.)