Bloomberg News

Democrats Criticize Romney’s Tax Rate as Republicans Dismiss It

September 23, 2012

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) in New York on Sunday. Photographer: Peter Foley/Bloomberg

Former President Bill Clinton said low tax rates like the one paid by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney aren’t helping the economic recovery, adding to Democratic criticism that Republicans disregard the needs of average Americans.

“I don’t think we can get out of this hole we’re in if people at that income level only pay 13, 14 percent,” Democrat Clinton said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” today. “It’d be interesting, I think, for the American people to see how the ordinary income years were treated, but apparently we’re not going to get to see that.”

Romney paid $1.9 million in taxes on $13.7 million of income in 2011 for a 14.1 percent rate, according to tax returns he released last week. The former Massachusetts governor and his wife make most of their income from investing an estimated $250 million fortune, and much of that income is taxed at a top rate of 15 percent, rather than the top rate of 35 percent for wages.

In 2011, Romney reported no income from wages, $6.8 million from capital gains and $3 million from taxable interest. The Romneys donated more than 29 percent of their income to charity, including more than $1.1 million in cash to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Robert Gibbs, a senior adviser to Democratic President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, said on “Fox News Sunday” that Romney, who co-founded Boston-based equity firm Bain Capital LLC, needs to explain the details of his investments.

Romney’s Finances

“The American people deserve to know a lot more about Mitt Romney’s finances because he hasn’t been straight with the American people about those finances, and he hasn’t been straight with the American people about what’s going to happen with their taxes,” Gibbs said. “Middle class families, as a result of the promises Mitt Romney has made, are going to see their taxes go up, while he’s going to cut taxes for people just like him.”

Some Republicans dismissed the emphasis on Romney’s tax returns, saying the focus should be on the economy and the Obama administration’s handling of it. Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union” program today, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina predicted that Obama will be defeated in the November election.

Talking About Economy

“This election is about the economy and the future of America,” Graham said. “We’ve talked about Mitt Romney’s tax return. We’ve talked about his speech, the tape of his speech at a campaign fundraiser. We’ve talked about his dog being on top of the car.”

“They’re not talking about what they have done,” Graham said. “This is not a sound economy, and this is why Mitt Romney is going to win the race.”

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus today said his party had a “good week,” even with the criticisms associated with Romney’s tax returns and with the leak of a video showing Romney stating that 47 percent of Americans are government-dependent “victims.”

“I think that we had a good week last week” because “we were able to frame up the debate” about the future direction of the country, Priebus said on ABC’s “This Week” broadcast. Earlier in the show he said it was “not the best week in the campaign.”

Mother Jones

The Romney campaign is dealing with fallout from comments that were recorded at a private fundraising event in May and distributed by Mother Jones magazine last week. Democrats have pounced on the remarks, framing Romney as a wealthy Republican who is out of touch with much of the country.

“It’s fair to say that a lot of those 47 percent that he was slandering earlier in the week probably pay more -- a higher percentage of their income in taxes overall than he does,” David Axelrod, a campaign strategist for President Barack Obama, said on the ABC broadcast today.

The issue of taxes, particularly whether to extend the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for wealthier Americans, is contributing to gridlock between congressional Democrats and Republicans as the so-called fiscal cliff approaches. In January, the U.S. faces $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts over 10 years and the Bush-era tax cuts will expire, unless Congress can agree on a debt plan. Obama and Democrats propose letting tax cuts expire for top earners.

Extending Tax Cuts

Clinton said today that he doesn’t support a temporary extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for top earners. He said that if Obama agrees to extend the cuts another year for that group it “would put him in a very disadvantageous position and make it impossible for us to get a reasonable budget deal.”

Clinton said the impasse in Congress may be loosened after the Nov. 6 elections, which he predicts Obama will win even amid heavy spending by groups such as super political action committees that support Romney.

“The Republican super-PACs and the Romney campaign combined will outspend the Democrats probably two-and-a-half, three-to-one from here on in,” Clinton said, adding that Obama is “winning, and winning in the swing states.”

Obama polls 50 percent among likely voters in three swing states, according to a poll that shows him pulling ahead of Romney in many of the election’s battlegrounds.

The NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist College poll conducted Sept. 16-18 gave Obama identical five-percentage point leads, 50 percent to 45 percent, in Colorado and Wisconsin, and an eight-point advantage in Iowa, 50 percent to 42 percent.

To contact the reporter on this story: Timothy R. Homan in Washington at thoman1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net


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