After Herman Cain rose to the first tier in the latest polls, the other Republican candidates finally decided to pay attention to what has been his sole selling point: the catchy 9-9-9 tax plan. The results weren't pretty at last night's debate. "Herman's well-meaning, and I love his boldness, and it's great," Rick Santorum said. "But the fact of the matter is, I mean, reports are now out that 84 percent of Americans would pay more taxes under his plan."
"I like your chutzpah on this, Herman, but I have to tell you," Mitt Romney said, joining the chorus, "the analysis I did, person by person, return by return, is that middle-income people see higher taxes under your plan."
They mostly danced around what exactly was wrong with Cain's plan, but Ron Paul went straight to the problem. "Oh, it is [dangerous], because it raises revenues, and the worst part about it; it's regressive," he said. "A lot of people aren't paying any taxes, and I like that. I don't think that we should even things up by raising taxes. So it is a regressive tax."
If implemented, Cain's 9-9-9 plan would result in a massive tax increase for the poor and middle class. According to the Tax Policy Center, of the 84 percent of people who would see an increase, the lowest 20 percent of the population would be hit by almost $1,700 in extra taxes per year. The only group whose taxes would drop would be the top quintile, while the top 0.1 percent would see their tax burden decreased by $1.69 million.
Paul's correct that 9-9-9 is an extremely regressive tax proposal. But that doesn't seem to be much of a problem for most Republican politicians. "They're not interested in 9-9-9," Perry said of folks he's spoken with in New Hampshire. "What they're interested in is flatter and fairer." Yet a flatter code means increasing the burden on the poor and middle class in order to lessen the amount contributed by high earners.
It's the same theme that inspired the anti-Occupy Wall Street Tumblr, "We Are the 53%," which claims to represent the portion of the population that pays federal income taxes. That other 47 percent still contributes their share to the budget through other means, such as the federal gas tax or having payroll taxes deducted from their wages. But it's become a conservative rallying cry, and Anderson Cooper picked up the talking point last night when he asked Michele Bachmann if she "would raise taxes on the 47 percent of Americans who currently don't pay taxes?"
"Absolutely every American should pay something, even if it's a dollar," she responded. A more regressive tax code is what the other presidential candidates would pursue if elected -- Herman Cain is just the only one willing to explicitly propose it so far. Though it's the policy their wealthy contributors desire, it's an idea with no support among the general public. In the latest Washington Post/Bloomberg poll, 68 percent of people supported raising taxes on people with incomes over $250,000 a year (including 54 percent of Republicans). On the other hand, only 79 percent opposed raising taxes on the middle class.
Photo credit: Jamelle Bouie