Why Does the GOP Want to Raise Taxes on the Poor?

Citing the widely-repeated meme on the right that 47 percent of Americans pay no federal income tax (not to be confused with taxes in general), James Kwak has two theories:

The first is that the modern Republican Party is funded by the very rich… The result is that the parties’ platforms now reflect the wishes of their major funders, not their median voters. This is why Republican presidential candidates spent the primary season competing to offer the most generous tax breaks to the rich–while Paul Ryan’s budget slashes Medicare, a program supported by the Tea Party rank and file. For the rich people who call the shots, it’s simply in their interest to lower taxes on the rich and raise them on the poor. End of story…

The other, even-more-disturbing explanation, is that Republicans see the rich as worthy members of society (the “producers”) and the poor as a drain on society (the “takers”). In this warped moral universe, it isn’t enough that someone with a gross income of $10 million takes home $8.1 million while someone with a gross income of $20,000 takes home $19,000.* That’s called “punishing success,” so we should really increase taxes on the poor person so we can “reward success” by letting the rich person take home even more. This is why today’s conservatives have gone beyond the typical libertarian and supply-side arguments for lower taxes on the rich, and the campaign to transfer wealth from the poor to the rich has taken on such self-righteous tones.

The most trafficked post ever on my own site continues to be this Graph of Doom look at the Newt Gingrich’s tax plan back when he was still running. It was stunning then and now how much the Republican primary candidates were tripping over each other to demonstrate how much they would give back to the ultra-rich. (See here for a full comparison of all the candidates.)

But, as Kwak says, they really seem to be invested in this Randian stuff. It should also be a reminder how badly Republicans are likely to govern. There on the ups now not because of any actual argument, but because of 1) the continuing unemployment crisis and 2) their skill at organizing. Their actual policy ideas would be laughable if they didn’t have an actual chance of becoming law.

There’s a halfway plausible argument that Romney would prefer to go big on Keynesian stimulus, like Nixon did, but when it comes to domestic policy a determined Congress holds the whip hand. Be warned.

Ryan Cooper is the Monthly handyman. Follow him on Twitter @RyanLouisCooper.

Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper, a contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, is currently the Washington correspondent for The Week.