Romney: Never paid less than 13% in taxes

2012-08-17 08:37
Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney. (AP)

Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney. (AP)

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Greer — Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney declared on Thursday he has paid at least 13% of his income in federal taxes every year for the past decade, offering that new detail while still decrying a "small-minded" fascination over returns he will not release. President Barack Obama's campaign shot back in doubt: "Prove it."

Democrats are using the tax issue to raise doubts about the trustworthiness of Romney, a former company CEO — or, as Republicans contend, to distract from a weak economic recovery under Obama.

Campaigning separately, Romney and running mate Paul Ryan also scrambled to explain their views on overhauling Medicare, the government healthcare programme relied on by millions of seniors.

Politically, both topics tie into major elements of the presidential race less than three months before the election: How well the candidates relate to the daily concerns and to the life circumstances of typical voters.

Seniors have long been a coveted voting bloc in US elections because they generally go to the polls in large numbers. That makes the topic of Medicare sensitive, and it could be among the deciding issues in a race that is shaping up to be razor-close.

Romney hadn't scheduled any public events but put together a last-minute news conference to explain the differences between his Medicare plan and Obama's. He set up a whiteboard to make his case with a marker.

'He did it first'

"Which of these two do you think is better?" Romney asked as he stood under a glaring sun at an airport.

Ryan, a Wisconsin lawmaker, resorted to congressional process language to explain why his budget plan includes the same $700bn Medicare cut that he and Romney are assailing Obama for endorsing.

Essentially, Ryan said, he had to do it because Obama did it first.

Romney's comments in South Carolina — at a news conference designed to focus on Medicare — showed that he remains sensitive to criticism of his tax payments but still is determined to release no more than two years of records despite contrary advice from some prominent Republicans.

The Obama campaign has aired an ad that, without evidence, raises the prospect that Romney paid no taxes some years. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid elevated that suggestion by claiming, also without proof, that an anonymous source told him Romney had not paid taxes for 10 years.

"I did go back and look at my taxes and over the past 10 years I never paid less than 13%," Romney told reporters after he landed in South Carolina for a fundraising event. "I think the most recent year is 13.6 or something like that. So I paid taxes every single year."

Less tax on investments

Aides later said Romney meant to say 13.9%, the amount he already disclosed for his 2010 federal return.

On average, middle income families, those making from $50 000 to $75 000 a year, pay 12.8% of their income in federal taxes, according to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation. In 2010 and 2011, Romney made about $21 million a year.

Romney is able to keep his tax rate low because most of his income is from investments, which are generally taxed at a lower rate than wages. That type of legal tax figuring is something Obama has proposed changing, although his campaign notably said nothing about Romney's self-described tax rate itself.

Instead, the campaign targeted only Romney's truthfulness, refusing to accept his answer and pressuring him to release years of earlier tax returns.

"Prove it," said Obama spokesperson Lis Smith. "Given Mitt Romney's secrecy about his returns, coupled with the revelations in just the one return we have seen to date and the inconsistencies between this one return and his other financial disclosures, he has forfeited the right to have us take him just at his word."

Reid's office said much the same. Romney demanded that Reid "put up" the name of his anonymous source.

"Given the challenges that America faces — 23 million people out of work, Iran about to become nuclear, one out of six Americans in poverty — the fascination with taxes I've paid I find to be very small-minded," Romney said.

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have released their returns for the years since 2000. The Obamas paid 20.5% in federal income taxes in 2011.

Read more on:    barack obama  |  mitt romney  |  us  |  us elections 2012

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