Republican Utah Sen. Mitt Romney caught the notice of many folks in Washington when he signed onto a bill with his Democratic Senate colleague, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet.
Bennet is a serious lawmaker, and we’ve found some of his proposals appealing, such as a lifetime ban on lobbying by former congressmen. Romney has a long history of bipartisanship, too. He was, after all, the governor of Massachusetts.
But the latest Bennet-Romney proposal was startling because it represented almost a full reversal of where Romney stood in 2012, when he was the Republican nominee for president.
Romney famously disparaged (or at least, that’s how it was perceived) the 47% of Americans who paid no income tax as no-ambition Democrats who refuse to take responsibility for their lives. He did this while running to cut taxes on the wealthy. Romney now supports a massive “tax cut” for the 47%.
He and Bennet are proposing to increase the child tax credit from $2,000 to $2,500 for children up to age 6. Under their plan, more of the child tax credit would be “refundable,” meaning that if it’s larger than a family’s income tax bill, the family gets a check from the IRS. It would expand the welfare-via-tax-code that exists.
The advantage of the bill is that it gets more money to families that need money the most. And we have editorialized in favor of cutting taxes for “the 47%.”
Nevertheless, we think Romney’s making a mistake with this proposal. Those mistakes are clear if you compare his plan to similar conservative plans.
Our proposed tax cut for the 47% is a reduction in the payroll tax for families. Payroll taxes are a penalty on working and hiring. Reduce these penalties, and you’ll get more working and hiring.
We’re not calling for the tax code to reward behavior — we’re calling for the tax code to stop punishing employment and work quite as much as it does now, especially given that this punishment falls disproportionately on lower-income workers and families.
Romney’s and Bennet’s plan is unlike ours in that it simply gives people money. It’s like the welfare of old in that it removes incentives to work.
If you want to help people, you help make work pay. You see what you can do to lead them toward self-reliance. Self-reliance requires work.
The earned income tax credit uses the tax code to transfer money to low-income families. But unlike Bennet-Romney, you have to work to get it. Helping the working poor, particularly those who have families, is the conservative way to approach the safety net.
When Marco Rubio and Mike Lee proposed expanding the child tax credit, they argued that it should be refundable against payroll taxes. That is, they were aiming to cut working families’ taxes rather than simply give them money.
Ultimately, we realize Romney and Bennet won’t pass their proposal into law anytime soon. That makes this a message bill.
And as a message bill, we largely approve of it: Conservatives should care more about working families and try to cut their taxes.
However, caring about people in need requires never losing sight of the dignity acquired by work.