John Laird: Forget Romney's 47%: We're all a bunch of moochers

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor

Published:

 

I've never been very good at mooching, except for those not-so-rare occasions when I intentionally leave my wallet in my golf bag before we head to the 19th hole for nachos and beer.

And at our house, we pay federal income taxes, although that's just a guess on my part because I'm actually not allowed anywhere near the family finances.

So please, Mr. Romney, kindly exclude me from the 47 percent of Americans who are moochers because they don't pay federal income taxes. Maybe I don't run with the dressage and polo crowd, but I'm no cradle-to-grave, nanny-state deadbeat, either.

Then again, maybe I'm a big, fat moocher and just don't know it. For example, each year Washingtonians save more than $500 million in federal income taxes because we're one of eight states where sales taxes are deducted when filing our federal returns.

And according to the Washington State Department of Revenue, our state has 452 state and local tax exemptions that "combine for an estimated taxpayer savings of $29.3 billion for the 2011-13 Biennium." These tax breaks go to a vast array of people, organizations (such as nonprofits) and businesses (including newspapers).

Gosh, looks like we're all a bunch of moochers in this state.

And we've been mooching for a long time, too. The Daily Astorian reminded readers in a Thursday editorial that the Lewis and Clark expedition "was a U.S. Army project, paid for by the U.S. Treasury." Most dams, which are vital to our region, are federally funded, as are the Interstate Highway System, federally constructed jetties and river dredging projects. "Oregon State University was founded under the Morrill Act of 1862, which established the land grant universities to foster agricultural education and research."

This is why it's troubling when Romney dismisses 47 percent of people and says his "job is to not worry about those people." Lots of folks don't like it when politicians talk about "those people." Another bothersome Romney line: "I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

Whoa, Mitt! Put down the broad brush for a second. Instead of maligning the moochers for lacking responsibility, take a closer look at who qualifies as a moocher. Michael Grunwald did precisely that in the Sept. 17 Time magazine, and he came up with these facts about businesses and people who pay taxes in America:

Homeowners combined don't pay more than $84 billion a year in taxes because of the mortgage-interest deduction.

People with 401(k)s and other savings plans don't pay $138 billion annually because of that tax break.

Because of charitable deductions, taxpayers don't pay about $40 billion a year.

Farmers benefit from $15 billion annually in grants, loans, crop insurance, etc.

Understanding semantics

When you look closely at these tax breaks, the inescapable determination is that we're all in this together. You also have to wonder who are the bigger moochers: the low-income, underemployed, single mothers of America who pay no federal income taxes … or owners of rum distilleries who, Grunwald reports, get $172 million in tax breaks, and NASCAR racetrack owners who get $40 million in tax breaks.

The answer to that question is simple: It's all a matter of semantics. When it comes to tax breaks, if you're poor, you're a moocher. If you're rich, you're a job creator.

Of course, most of us are neither. So we're left to our own devices when it comes to deciding which moochers to demonize and which moochers to lionize.

I like the conclusion drawn in The Daily Astorian editorial: "The point of all of this is that we are capable of more, as a nation, than we are separately. Our national motto — E pluribus unum — means out of many, one."

But be careful here. If you get too wrapped up in the pull-together principle and all this touchy-feely Golden Rule stuff, you'll turn into a redistributionist. And trust me, buddy, that's even worse than a moocher.