After losing the South Carolina Primary to Newt Gingrich, possibly in part due to his waffling at the pre-Primary debates about releasing his tax returns, Mitt Romney released his tax returns for the past two years, which show that he paid about 14% in federal taxes on income of nearly $43 million. The timing of Romney’s tax return release was impeccable- for Democrats. For months, President Obama and Democrats have been attacking Republicans for wanting to maintain tax breaks and loopholes for the super-wealthy. Last August, Warren Buffet pointed out in an op-ed that he paid a lower federal tax rate than his secretary in 2010. He paid about 17.4%, whereas his office staff paid an average of 36%. Buffet rightly pointed out that this simply isn’t fair. He added, “it’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.”
Last October, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service released a report that indicated 25% of all households earning at least $1 million annually are paying a smaller share of their income than a large segment of the middle class. The report adds that 94,500 millionaires pay a lower tax rate than most of the middle class and that 7,000 millionaires pay no income taxes at all.
The reason for this is because of the payroll tax (Social Security tax), which doesn’t tax income above $107,000, and the capital gains tax rate, which is 15%. Investment income is usually taxed at this rate, which is much lower than earned income tax rates. Many of the super-wealthy make their money via investment income rather than earned income.
President Obama has talked about “the Buffet rule” as a way to help fight the budget deficit by implementing a higher minimum tax rate for people in the highest income bracket, to ensure they don’t pay a lower percentage of income in taxes than the middle class. As he has stated, millionaires shouldn’t be paying lower tax rates than their secretaries. Mitt Romney’s revelation that he paid an effective federal tax rate of 14% underscores the notion that it is completely unfair for the super wealthy to pay less in overall taxes than the middle class. And it adds to the powerful narrative that was created by the Occupy Wall Street movement, whose underlying theme deals with the challenges posed by the incredible gap between the top 1% of earners in the U.S. and the rest of the country, and the disproportionate amount of power that the top 1% hold. Romney’s tax returns show that we are in dire need of tax reforms that will create a fairer revenue system. If Romney becomes the GOP nominee, which seems pretty likely at this point, you can count on Romney’s ridiculously low tax rate as becoming a major campaign issue. It will help show that the GOP’s insistence in preserving Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy and Romney’s advocacy for even more tax cuts for top earners are entirely out of touch with our federal budget deficit reality and lack any sense of fairness. So I thank Mitt Romney for serving as a poster-child for all that is wrong with the fiscal policies he and his party tirelessly support.