My husband and I, recently retired, are among the people that Mitt Romney described with such disdain in the fundraiser video revealed last week. We are dependent on federal and state entitlements.
Romney aimed his scorn at the "47 percent (of Americans) who pay no federal income taxes" and "feel entitled to health care," among other things.
Our household does not pay zero taxes, but our federal income taxes are a fraction of what we paid as full-time workers. Our Social Security income is untaxed. The substantial value of our Medicare is not subject to taxes. Both of us were helped over rough spots throughout our lives by federal entitlements. Without them, we would not be enjoying a middle-class retirement in our own home, and we are grateful to our country.
As recent retirees, my husband and I depend on Medicare because without it, comparable individual coverage from, say, Blue Cross would at our age cost more than $15,000 a year each. We also depend on the federal mortgage deduction and could not own the house we live in without a state benefit that allowed us to carry our low property tax rate to our current retirement home.
Years ago, as a child of the working class, I got a college education with federally backed student loans and a scholarship. The loan was largely forgiven under another entitlement - a reduction in principal for taking low-paid public-service jobs teaching and in the Peace Corps. At times I depended on unemployment insurance, and my husband received federal disability income from Social Security for a few years.
Our work will now be as volunteers, so we are not "job creators" in the eyes of Romney. We have met volunteers from families paying zero income tax because of low income and federal child credits (although the wage earners in those families pay the same rate as Romney on Social Security and Medicare taxes). They give of their time while also striving for better lives.
Finally, my husband and I benefit from one more federal entitlement - except it's not aimed at the elderly or the struggling. It's the 15 percent federal tax cap on capital gains.
For us, such investment gains are a tiny fraction of our income. But they are virtually all the income of billionaire hedge fund managers. Multimillionaires like Romney who live almost entirely off their stock and bond portfolios are also top beneficiaries.
A decade ago, investors paid at the personal income rate - up to 35 percent or more - on their realized investment gains. Congress and the George W. Bush administration capped most such gains at the rate of 15 percent in 2003. Loath to be seen "increasing" taxes, Congress keeps renewing the cap. And it is an entitlement just as much as food stamps, income-tax credits for families with children, and Medicaid. It is paid for by all taxpayers for the benefit of some. Except, of course, that in the case of capital gains, the benefit increases with wealth and will increase even more if Romney is elected and gets his way.
He, running mate Paul Ryan and other conservatives would like to steeply cap, cut or privatize entitlements. Medicare, in one of their schemes, would ultimately become a voucher system for the benefit of for-profit companies. Only one entitlement, the capital-gains tax cap, would be vastly expanded; Romney proposes to cut the gains tax from 15 percent to zero percent for some taxpayers. Ryan would like to do away with the tax altogether. A separate proposal could eliminate corporate dividend taxes.
Thus Americans who in Romney's view "believe the government has a responsibility to them, who believe they are victims, who believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing" would help fund the yachts of billionaires through reductions in their food stamps or child care credits. Others of us might pay for their luxuries through limits on and fees for our Medicare and perhaps taxes on our Social Security.
Depending on which capital-gains tax plan came to pass, Romney could personally benefit by millions a year - a windfall he would no doubt feel eminently entitled to. Maybe he'd use it to create jobs for us as his elderly maid and butler.
Judy Dugan is a former journalist and consumer advocate who lives in Oxnard, Calif. She wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.