The rich don't control Washington

Contrary to popular wisdom, the rich don't control Washington. The poor and the middle-class do.

This will surprise most Americans. We've been conditioned to believe that Washington is a den of corruption, overrun by well-paid lobbyists, and lawyers who manipulate government policies to favor the rich and corporate interests. Ordinary Americans don't stand a chance against this juggernaut.

But look at what the government actually does, and a completely different picture emerges.

Ron Haskins, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, recently presented some fascinating figures on government spending. From 1980 to 2011, yearly outlays for the 10 largest programs for the poor went from $126 billion to $626 billion in inflation adjusted dollars.

Then there are the programs aimed primarily at the middle-class. The biggest, of course, are Social Security and Medicare. Put together, all these programs accounted for almost 60 percent of total federal spending in 2011.

Meanwhile, what about the rich and well-to-do? Well, they're paying for almost all of that spending. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the richest fifth of Americans pay nearly 70 percent of all federal taxes.

The point is not that the rich are victims. Their lawyers and lobbyists often do secure beneficial tax breaks, subsidies and regulatory preferences. But focusing mainly on these victories distorts our picture of government.

Our problem is not that the rich have taken over government. Our problem is that politicians, on the left and right, are doling out money to everyone -- particularly the poor and middle-class. That's why our budget deficits are so huge and so intractable.

About the author

Robert Samuelson is a columnist for the Washington Post and the author of "The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath: The Past and Future of American Affluence."
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The tax system in this country is highly progressive. The top one percent pay more tax revenue than the bottom 95% combined. Their average tax rate is 27%. Roughly 47% of US households pay zero federal income tax. Face the facts that the rich fund most of our federal government. When you consume federally funded goods and services, thank a rich person.

BTW: The Buffett rule is misguided. Most folks don't include the 35% corporate income tax that is usurped prior to the additional 15% taken when distributed as capital gains or dividends. That turns out to be nearly 45% in total. Remember, corporations are owned by people, managed by people, employ people and sell goods and services to people. The only difference is the fractional ownership part (i.e., shareholders). When you tax corporations, you tax people.

So, here’s my rebuttel:

When you’re talking about the poor and the middle class, you’re talking about 90% or more of the people in society. That’s not a “special interest” group. There’s nothing “special” about the interests of that group. That, ladies and gentlemen, is called “our society.” Let me put it another way. Remember how this is a government “of the people, by the people and for the people?” Well, guess what. That 90% -- that’s those “people” the constitution was talking about. That’s what that whole democratic experiment was for – so that the government served “the people” and not just a few aristocrats at the top who had an audience with the king.

Make no mistake, when you’re calling 90% of the population a “special interest,” you need to stop, drop, pay your fair share of taxes just like the rest of us – and count yourself lucky that you’re in a country that gave you the opportunities you have. And, poor and middle class people – next time someone who made a nice fortune in this country tries to convince you that you’re the special interest, take another look at our constitution. And remember that you’re the people.

Maybe you didnt read correctly, but 20% of the people already pay 70% of the taxes. That means that a small percentage of the people are funding just about all of the government. The rest of the crew is largely getting a free ride. So you can say a lot of things about it, but calling it "unfair" is only true if you are talking about the people doing all the work to pay for everyone else. How about we get more of the slackers to foot the bill. Thats right slackers, because most of that top 20% didnt inherit this money... they went to school, studied, worked hard, and have earned a successful living. Meanwhile many of the rest slacked off in HS, never went to college or dropped out early, watch entirely too much TV and then just complain that they are not getting their "fair share" when they didnt do anything to earn it. if you want to change the equation, get the slackers of their butts. Asking a small percentage of people to continue to fund EVERYTHING for EVERYONE else is never going to work.

Agreed...most people don't get this. Obama repeatedly mentions that just the middle class and working poor somehow pay most of the taxes. The rich have expensive lawyers to help avoid paying taxes. These are great sound bites but are clearly untrue. You can check the tax tables at www.irs.gov. Mr. Obama should be ashamed of his deceitful language.

clearly robert samuelson is aching for a conservative think tank job. the 1% of american are the richest of the rich in america. are 99% politicians in washington speak or represent the the rest of 99% of american? well let see. how many washington politicians are millionaires? by the law of democracy the richest should only be represent by 1% of washington politicians. does it? well. i guess if you ask all the dead american soldiers family you know, the poorest of the poorest 1% who can't afford to go to college, should their love one die for the other 1% richest of the rich? what? well of course they did. how else will the richest of the rich make their blood money. god knows the rich have no problem pouring billions into think tanks in Washington that dictate domestic and foreign policy. by the way most of the media in united states are own by the richest 1%. and yes they are all white. so ya. if the 1% of the richest of the rich want to be americans citizen. they will support america. otherwise leave! go somewhere else! do what the owner of blackwater did. move his family to dubai and give up american citizenship after making billions in american military contracts and dead americans. Ya. 1%, door is open bud! don't let it hit your ass! and this is another thing. its time to declare war against these richest 1% who take their money out of united states just to avoid paying their taxes. aside from passing international laws we should create a contest to brand these " traitor of american value " but with a better catch phrase or maybe a song.

if the 1% actually left, who would be left to fund the government? Who would pay for the schools, roads, military, social programs, etc. The top already pay for just about ALL of the government. its like if you had 10 friends that went out to dinner all the time and that one person paid for EVERYONE EVERYTIME. Given that a small percent of people pay for everyone else, maybe only they should vote. Ever thought of it that way? I agree its American to pay your taxes... so how about we get the roughly 50% who dont pay squat to do something and contribute? How about we get them off their ass and actually go to school, go to college, work hard, get a job and contribute instead of whining about how they dont get their fair share when they do nothing and contribute nothing --- that is what is un-American.

"If the one percent left." Where would they go?
"The top one percent already pay for just about ALL of government." No, they, don't actually. They don't pay for Social Security, which is what Samuelson is bitching about.
"Maybe only they should vote." You know that the Constitution guarantees the right to vote, don't you? Why do you conservatives hate America so much?
"contribute instead of whining." Jamie Dimon lost $2 billion today. He's a hell of a contributor, all right.

Agreed. My comments above apply here as well

It's interesting that Robert Samuelson says NOTHING about how the wealthy benefited disproportionately from all the tax cuts they've received since 1980. What a one-sided presentation of the facts!

That is so funny, let me ask you something, when 20% pay 70% of the taxes, and 50% pay ZERO, whose taxes CAN you cut? There is only one group paying most of all the taxes so of course that is the only group whose taxes you CAN cut. Its the basic problem in America, and what really caused the most recent financial crisis- Americans cant do basic math. How else can you explain people making less than 40K a year getting a 500k mortgage?


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