WASHINGTON -- Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) pushed back Monday on criticism that he wants to tax the poor, but called it "perverse" that people on the bottom half of the income ladder pay little or no federal income tax.
Hatch attracted heavy criticism last week for saying the poor need to "share some of the responsibility" for lowering the deficit while complaining that the rich already pay too much in taxes.
Hatch backtracked somewhat on Monday, but still suggested that the rich have an unfair share of the load.
"I don't want to tax the truly poor, those who would help themselves if they could," Hatch said. "But you can't tell me that 51 percent of all households are the truly poor. Really, I don't want to tax them either to be honest with you, but it's apparent we're going to have to find a better way broadening the base of the tax system."
He also criticized outlets like MSNBC and The Huffington Post for reporting that he said the poor should do more, accusing the "liberal blogosphere" of using Democratic talking points.
"I'm not surprised, but this completely misses my point and the point is this: No matter what these Democrats tell you, the wealthy and middle class are already shouldering around 100 percent of the nation's tax burden and 51 percent pay absolutely nothing in income taxes," Hatch fumed before lambasting the entire system.
"Furthermore, because of this perverse distribution of federal income taxes, there is no way to fix our deficit hole and start paying down the debt by increasing taxes only on the so-called rich," he said.
Hatch's figures on who pays how much in income tax, while slightly out of date, are essentially correct -- but critics note that he is leaving out all the other taxes people pay, including state income tax, sales taxes and property tax, not to mention innumerable government fees. In fact, middle class taxpayers often end up with no federal tax bill because the tax code recognizes the other taxes they pay, and gives them a break.
Hatch also ignores the fact that the loopholes many Democrats want to close disproportionately help the wealthy.
After railing against the perverse system that doesn't tax the lower middle class, Hatch argued it's the Democrats who will tax that sector if they want to cut the deficit without major "structural changes" to entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
"The president's out of control spending puts Democrats in the position of having to raise taxes big time on the middle class," Hatch argued.
His arguments came during debate over a resolution -- which he opposed -- that would express the "sense of the Senate" that the wealthy should do more to help deal with the nation's debt problems.