The Fiscal Cliff Comes Back to Bite Voters: How Should Republicans Respond?

As the first paychecks of 2013 were deposited into accounts earlier this month, some workers undoubtedly wondered why their take-home pay seemed lighter than in December. The reason was simple: the fiscal cliff deal is now beginning to rear its ugly head in the form of a payroll tax increase. Oddly, no one seemed more surprised than Obama supporters themselves.  “What happened?” rang out among liberal blogs and message boards. Investor’s Business Daily reported that many of these commentators were very concerned about the potential impact of the increase, and even more were incredulous that they would be among those taxed. As one complained, “I guarantee this decrease is gonna hurt me more than the increase in taxes is will hurt those making over 400 grand.” Sadly, this is probably true of a large bloc of Obama voters. Let’s look at a breakdown of potential loss in income:

  • Women made up more than half of all voters, and 55% voted for Obama. Yet the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the average woman in the workforce will lose almost $14 per week to the payroll tax increase, or $728 each year. For a single mom struggling to make ends meet, $14 less per week could mean putting off purchasing new shoes for her child. 
  • Voters between the ages of 20 and 34 also overwhelmingly supported the president. Their income, too, will take a hit. On average, those 20-24 will lose just over $9 per week, or $475 per year. It may not seem like a lot, but for a struggling college student, that can be equal to the cost of textbooks for the entire year. Workers between the ages of 25 and 34 don’t fare any better; they will see a decrease of almost $16 per week. Many in this age group are still trying to pay off student loans, and that $828 yearly can equate to two or more monthly payments for some, depending on the amount borrowed and the interest rate.
  • Workers making less than $50,000 per year also comprised a large portion of Obama votes. At the upper end of that spectrum, each wage earner will see a reduction of almost $19 per week. That’s more than $980 dollars a year – for a family with two adults each earning at this level, that amount of money could represent mortgage payments for a couple of months. 

Looking at these statistics, it’s easy to understand the pressure these voters will feel, and it’s important for Republicans to respond appropriately. Before the fiscal cliff deal, President Obama put the responsibility for middle-class tax increases squarely on Congress. Republicans unfortunately failed to negotiate a deal that served the vast majority of voters well. Another opportunity to craft a responsible fiscal policy that lowers taxes, grows the economy and reduces the size of government has now presented itself, and Republicans need to jump on it. A balanced budget has to be part of the debt ceiling debate, and any budget presented ought to appeal directly to those Obama voters who are at this moment feeling disenfranchised. Memories are short; by 2014, the pain of the payroll tax increase will probably be forgotten. The balanced budget plan should be marketed as soon as possible to address the individual needs of each of the above voting segments. Young people need to know the effect any tax hike will have on their ability to repay student loans, and struggling families ought to be told the exact toll a loss of income will have on their household finances. Democrats have turned the debate towards “millionaires” for too long. Now, Republicans need to reflect the discussion back to the group any tax increases will really hurt: the middle class.