Lots of Republican conservatives, Paul Ryan and Bill O’Reilly among them, have taken the position that even if Mitt Romney’s rhetoric was clumsy, his point was basically right. Some Americans pay taxes; others collect benefits.
But his basic claim was total baloney. When you count income taxes, payroll taxes, excise taxes, and highly regressive state and local taxes, the typical lower income working American pays about one-fifth of his or her income in taxes—more than Mitt Romney!
According to a study by Citizens for Tax Justice, the bottom fifth of the income distribution paid 17.4 percent of their income in state and local taxes. The second-poorest fifth paid 21.2 percent.
There are in fact about 18 percent of Americans who pay neither federal payroll nor income taxes. They are overwhelmingly the unemployed and the low-income elderly, neither of whom pay payroll taxes.
As pollster Celinda Lake observes, Romney’s big lie is very important to refute. Even if voters reacted negatively to Romney’s country-club rhetoric about not caring about the 47 percent, it bothers working Americans (all of whom pay taxes) to think that nearly half of Americans pay no taxes. So it’s important not only to ridicule Romney’s cluelessness but to call him on this big lie.