Mike Lee Wants Conservatives to Stop Calling Poor People Moochers

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 30 2013 10:40 AM

Mike Lee Wants Conservatives to Stop Calling Poor People Moochers

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"Working parents are not free riders," he told the Heritage Foundation Tuesday.

Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

That's not all he said, but the Utah senator's speech at the Heritage Foundation has been heralded by many on the right and hardly noticed on the left. "I hope other Tea Party conservatives follow Lee’s lead," says Reihan Salam. "Can’t all reasonable people agree to ignore Mike Lee completely until he says he was wrong about the shutdown?" asks Marc Tracy.

Eh, Salam is closer to the point. The media prefers bluster to wonkery, which often makes sense (it's easier to bluster than to pass a bill!), but Lee's always been a careful thinker. As Salam notes, Lee does not talk about ending energy taxes, but about distributing them to the states. You live in a state with low gas taxes? It gets less federal money as the federal gas tax dwindles. 

Just as interesting is Lee's embrace of Jonathan Last's (and by extension Steve Sailer's) thinking on the goals of making it more affordable to have a family. As he does so, he contradicts eons of Randian table-pounding about how those who pay no net income tax are lazy.

The heart of the plan is a new, additional $2,500 per-child tax credit that can offset parents’ income and payroll-tax liability. This last point is crucial. Many middle-class parents may pay no income taxes — but they do pay taxes. Working parents are not free riders.
Actually, when it comes to Social Security and Medicare, parents pay twice: first when they pay their payroll taxes, just like everyone else, and then again, by bearing the enormous costs of raising their kids, who will grow up to not only pay taxes, but cure diseases, and invent the next iPhone, and most importantly, provide their parents with grandkids!
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Compare that with the idea that—to coin a phrase—47 percent of people don't pay taxes and think they're entitled. Lee doesn't think that a tax system skewed to encourage good behavior makes people lazy. In 2013, this is a bold thing for a Republican to say.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.