This exchange between Mitt Romney and some liberal hecklers in Iowa is sure to get some notice over the next year-plus:
ROMNEY: There’s various ways of [preserving Social Security and Medicare’s solvency]. One is we could raise taxes on people.
AUDIENCE: Corporations! Corporations!
ROMNEY: Corporations are people, my friend.
AUDIENCE: No they’re not.
ROMNEY: Of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people. Where do you think it goes?
AUDIENCE: It goes into your pocket!
ROMNEY: Whose pockets? Whose pockets? People’s pockets. Human beings, my friend.
This has obviously set the Twitter ablaze, and I’ve had a good laugh wondering if Up With Corporations will play the Super Bowl halftime show this year, and planning my trip to the Corporation’s Republic of China. But as a factual matter, thanks to in particular the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, Romney happens to be correct. For all intents and purposes, corporations are seen as people for the purposes of campaign finance. Romney knows this well, having collected the bulk of his campaign contributions from corporate lobbyists. And he’s benefiting from an unaccountable SuperPAC, the next wave of spending for the 2012 election cycle. The Romney-supporting SuperPAC has already raised $12.2 million in undisclosed dollars.
But campaign finance is not really what Romney was talking about. He was talking about Social Security and other social insurance programs, and how if you finance the government on higher corporate taxes, it just comes out of the pockets of people. This is the typical conservative dodge against higher tax rates, that they would hurt “job creators” or get “passed on” to customers. If you play that argument out, it’s a brief for no taxes on any corporations whatsoever, given how harmful they are to the economy. And now I’ve cracked the corporatist code.
Meanwhile, at the end of this clip, Romney offers his real priorities on this subject: progressive price indexing and a higher retirement age. Raising the retirement age is so unpopular, I’d say that was the bigger gaffe that would be a better source of campaign ads. As for progressive price indexing, Romney puts this forward as a populist notion, that the benefits of the rich would rise more slowly, but surely he knows that to generate any savings out of PPI, you have to dip well into the middle class and cut their benefits. It also puts the whole Social Security program at risk by turning it into a welfare program.
So yes, “Corporations are people, my friend” makes a nice bumper sticker, but Romney is also telling us exactly what he would do on Social Security in this clip.