Republican Candidates Test Outer Limits of Their Own Anti-Tax Ideology


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The question from a Tea Party voter was this: “Out of every dollar I earn, how much do you think that I deserve to keep?”

It came during the Fox News and Google Republican presidential candidates debate last Thursday, and was directed at Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.  It was her second crack at the question, so she’d had plenty of time to think it through. And her reply was this: “I think you earned every dollar. You should get to keep every dollar you earn.”

A few sentences later, however, the Congresswoman added, “Obviously, we have to give money back to the government so that we can run the government….”

The anti-tax orthodoxy has become so rigid that candidates like Bachmann, who also chairs the House Tea Party Caucus, must try to reconcile the position that no American should have to pay taxes even when they work for the government who collects those taxes and know perfectly that taxes are required to “run the government.”

Bachmann may have had the most telling (and head-exploding) tax policy moment during the last weekend’s three day series of major Republican presidential candidate events, but she was not alone among the candidates in stumbling over tax issues.

Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman faced a tough question from the debate moderator Megyn Kelly who asked, “Is there any scenario under which you could side with the 66 percent of people who believe that it is a good idea to raise taxes on millionaires?” Despite his status as most moderate Republican candidate this season, Huntsman delivered the prefabricated anti-tax response: “This is the worst time to be raising taxes, and everybody knows that.”

Clearly, not “everybody” knows that. As Kelly’s question suggested, 66% of American’s support increasing taxes on the wealthy. Hewing to their anti-tax orthodoxy, Huntsman and the rest of the GOP field find themselves at odds with two thirds of the American public.

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson made his first major GOP debate appearance memorable by using his limited speaking time to call twice for replacing our current income tax system with the, so-called, Fair Tax, which is essentially a 30% national sales tax. As the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy showed in its report on the Fair Tax, the plan is both unworkable and extremely regressive.

Although Gary Johnson is probably the most forthright in his support of the Fair Tax, at least half of the Republican field (and most notably current front-runner Texas Governor Rick Perry) have come out in favor of it. The one exception is former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who came out against the Fair Tax in the last debate, noting, quite sensibly and correctly, that it would cut taxes for the rich while increasing them on middle income families.

Former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza Herman Cain had a strong weekend, winning the Florida Straw poll with a surprising 37 percent of the vote. ABC News notes that his success was partially due to his ability to ‘strike a chord’ with his “9-9-9” tax plan, which he also touted proudly during the debate. His plan would replace the entire federal tax system with a 9 percent national sales tax, 9 percent income tax, and 9 percent business flax tax. As we’ve pointed out before, every aspect of this gimmicky and regressive plan would mean higher taxes on lower and middle income families and much lower taxes on the wealthy.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich took the debate as an opportunity to – and not for the first time – rewrite fiscal history by claiming that his ‘leadership’ led to four consecutive years of balanced budgets. We’ve said it once, we’ve said it twice, and we’ll say it again: sorry Newt, you never balanced the budget.

Watch this space for reviews of all things tax as the political campaign season kicks into high gear.

Thank you for visiting Tax Justice Blog. CTJ and ITEP staff will soon retire this domain. But ITEP staff are still blogging! You can find the same level of insight and analysis and select Tax Justice Blog archives at our new blog, http://www.justtaxesblog.org/

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