Tax accountant Mitt Romney, having given investor Mitt Romney’s tax returns a thorough and independent review, reported Thursday that presidential candidate Mitt Romney had paid a minimum of 13 percent of his income in federal taxes every year for the past decade.
So that settles that, I guess.
Actually, I’m willing to take Romney’s word on this specific point. He should still release additional tax returns, and it’s quite clear that there’s something in those returns that in Romney’s mind would not pass muster with the voters. There is no other plausible explanation for why he has refused to follow the precedent set by every other major candidate in the modern era.
However, on the matter of whether Romney paid taxes, and how much he paid, I’m willing to trust his word. For one thing, the backlash should it prove to have been a lie would devastate his campaign. (And yes, accepting Romney’s word means that Harry Reid has either been badly misled by his secret informer or that the Senate majority leader is himself lying.)
In revealing the minimum level of taxes that he has paid, Romney also questioned why so much attention continues to be focused on the matter:
“I just have to say, 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 compared to the broad issues that we face.”
On that point, Romney’s answer is much too coy.
Romney is very wealthy. Tax rates on the wealthy is one of the more heated policy questions in this campaign season. So voters are naturally curious about what effect current tax policy has had on his financial situation, and what effect proposed changes would have.
As we know, the Republican position has long been that taxes on the wealthy and on corporations are punitively high, and that reducing them would help create jobs and new investment. President Bush, for example, used that argument in successfully pushing major tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, yet finished his eight-year presidency with fewer private non-farm payroll jobs than when he began.
Despite that history, both Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, continue to push the story line that America’s wealthy are being used and abused by the ungrateful masses, and continue to present tax plans that would further favor wealthier Americans. For example, the budget proposed by Ryan in 2010 and passed with overwhelming GOP support in the House would have cut Romney’s effective tax rate to 0.82 percent in 2010, the only year for which Romney has released his returns.
Even without that change, however, Romney’s effective tax rate of roughly 13 percent for at least two in the last 10 years suggests that the picture of an overtaxed upper class is simply wrong. Millions and millions of less-affluent Americans pay Uncle Sam a lot bigger share of their income than did Romney, and they have every reason to wonder why that might be.
– Jay Bookman