Debra J. Saunders

Debra J. Saunders, Chronicle Columnist
Published 5:55 p.m., Wednesday, September 19, 2012

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,” Mitt Romney told donors in a $50,000-a-plate Florida fundraiser that was secretly videotaped in May and released by Mother Jones this week. In an unfortunate choice of words, Romney described those 47 percent as people who “are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

Factually, Romney was in the right neighborhood. The Tax Foundation’s William McBride has found that estimates of the number of Americans who do not pay any federal income tax range from 41 to 51 percent.

Rhetorically, Romney was in the wrong part of town. His poor choice of words gratuitously insulted folks like seniors who spent a lifetime paying into the system.

Romney also hit on a truth: The percentage of filers who pay payroll taxes on Social Security but not federal income taxes has grown a lot – from 27 percent in 2001 to 42 percent in 2009.

There are solid reasons behind Washington’s decision to increase tax credits for parents and the working poor over the years, but the result is an America in which close to half of voters can support any scheme designed to expand the scope of federal government secure in the knowledge that they likely will have to pay for it.

While pundits have hit Romney for his truly awful choice of words, the fact that almost half of Americans pay no federal income taxes does not paint a pretty picture.

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