Virginia Senate nominee Tim Kaine (D) unexpectedly suggested in a debate with George Allen on Thursday that he’d be open to requiring everyone to pay a minimum amount — including the 47 percent of American taxpayers who do not currently pay any income tax.
Kaine was responding to a question from moderator David Gregory about whether “everyone in Virginia should pay something in federal income tax” in light of Mitt Romney’s leaked complaints about the 47 percent who he considered “dependent” on government.
“I would be open to a proposal that would have some minimum tax level for everyone,” Kaine said. “But I do insist, many of the 47 percent that Gov. Romney was going after pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than he does.”
Republicans quickly pounced. The Kaine campaign said the Democrat was simply discussing his openness to discuss anything as part of his plan to overhaul the tax code.
“Virginians heard liberal Tim Kaine loud and clear today — his solution to 43 straight months of unemployment above 8 percent is to raise taxes on everyone, regardless of their income levels or economic struggles,” Brian Walsh, NRSC communications director told TPM. “Remarkable.”
The Kaine campaign stuck by his remarks after the debate, insisting he only suggested he was open to any possible solution.
“He would look at a package of comprehensive tax reforms and if a proposal was included in that, he wouldn’t close the book on looking at the proposal,” said Brandi Hoffine, spokesperson for the Kaine campaign. “It would really depend on what else was in the proposal. He doesn’t think this something we need to do right now — as he said, the problem with Mitt Romney’s comment is most of those people do pay taxes.”
“We need comprehensive tax reform and he would look at a comprehensive package for comprehensive tax reform,” she said. “You can’t issue comprehensive tax reform if you start shutting doors.”
Kaine said during the debate that “everyone pays taxes,” which is more or less correct when considering property taxes, sales taxes and payroll taxes. And as Democrats have noted repeatedly since the clip of Romney’s remarks at the May fundraiser were revealed, the people who don’t pay income tax are mostly the poor, disabled and elderly.
Virtually no Democratic politicians and only a handful of top Republicans have suggested requiring the approximately 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay any income tax to pay a minimum amount. That’s because the issue is created almost entirely by popular tax credits and benefits that affect working families, like the Earned Income Tax Credit, or exempt sources of income like Social Security benefits and combat pay. Romney, despite his complaints to donors behind closed doors and independent studies that suggest his proposals would increase taxes for the middle class, has repeatedly denied he’d raise taxes on average Americans.
Recent polling has shown Kaine pulling ahead of Allen in what for months has been a neck-and-neck Senate race. Republicans believe Kaine handed them an opportunity to blunt that momentum with his comments Thursday.