Rep. Steve King Daydreams About The Good Ol' Days When Only Property Owners Voted

October 04, 2011 3:39 pm ET — Brian Powell

In a Judiciary Committee hearing on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) used his allotted time to daydream out loud about an era of American history when only male property owners were allowed to vote. King pondered whether we should go back to a similar system of allowing only people with "skin in the game" (i.e. people with jobs) to have that right.

Halfway through his remarks, King made the disclaimer that he was only making "a historical observation" about the era of property-owner-only voting, but the rest of his dialogue made it seem as though he thought the Founding Fathers might have been on to something.

In fact, King wondered aloud whether a balanced budget amendment would put "back in order" what he sees as an imbalance of influence that has existed since non-property owners were granted suffrage. King's ultimate thesis seemed to be that only taxpayers should have the right to vote, as he made the false claim that "47 percent of American households don't pay taxes" in an effort to bolster his point. (That statistic refers to federal income tax only — those households "still pay other taxes, including federal payroll taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare, and excise taxes on gasoline, aviation, alcohol and cigarettes," as well as local sales, income and property taxes.)

KING: As I roll this thing back and I think of American history, there was a time in American history when you had to be a male property owner in order to vote. The reason for that was, because they wanted the people who voted — that set the public policy, that decided on the taxes and the spending — to have some skin in the game.

Now we have data out there that shows that 47 percent of American households don't pay taxes, 51 percent of American wage-earners don't have an income tax liability. And it's pretty clear that there are a lot of people who are not in the workforce at all. In fact, of our unemployment numbers — that run in the 13 or 14 million category — when you go to the Department of Labor Statistics and you look at that data, you can add up those that are simply not in the workforce of different age groups, but of working age, add that number to the number of those who are on unemployment and you come up with a number that was just a few months ago 80 million Americans. Just over a month ago that number went over 100 million Americans that aren't working.

Now I don't think they're paying taxes. But many of them are voting. And when they vote, they vote for more government benefits.

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"What if that were transferred into a society like today and it were [only] taxpayers that were voting?" King mused.

Following his remarks about limited voting rights, King painted his idyllic vision of an American national sales tax, where "every little boy that grows up in America would have to put a couple dimes up on the counter to buy their Skittles or every little girl that bought her Barbie doll clothes would have to do the same."

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