Team Obama promises to drop push for tax returns if Romney releases 5 years

By Stephen C. Webster
Friday, August 17, 2012 11:33 EDT
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Mitt Romney at a campaign event in Holland, Michigan on June 19, 2012. Photo: Maria Dryfhout / Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.
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President Barack Obama’s campaign manager offered Mitt Romney’s campaign manager a “deal” on Friday, essentially saying that if Romney releases just three more years of tax returns, they’ll stop hammering him for not releasing more, even though Obama has made 12 years of his financial history public.

Team Romney, of course, politely refused.

“Governor Romney apparently fears that the more he offers, the more our campaign will demand that he provide,” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina wrote in a letter to his counterpart in the Romney campaign. “So I am prepared to provide assurances on just that point: if the Governor will release five years of returns, I commit in turn that we will not criticize him for not releasing more — neither in ads nor in other public communications or commentary for the rest of the campaign.”

“It is clear that President Obama wants nothing more than to talk about Governor Romney’s tax returns instead of the issues that matter to voters, like putting Americans back to work, fixing the economy and reining in spending,” Romney campaign manager Matt Rhodes replied, apparently determined that just two years of tax returns is enough. “If Governor Romney’s tax returns are the core message of your campaign, there will be ample time for President Obama to discuss them over the next 81 days.”

Releasing tax returns for at least 12 years has traditionally been assumed by presidential candidates, including Romney’s father, even though it’s not required by law. However, since Romney is among the most wealthy presidential candidates in U.S. history, the Obama campaign seems to believe there will be some fresh, raw meat in those returns.

The Obama campaign has decided to make Romney’s vast wealth a central tentpost of its messaging strategy, in-part because of Romney’s support for the very costly Bush-era tax cuts for the rich. When he lost a tussle with congressional Republicans and agreed to a “compromise” in 2010 that kept the government running in exchange for a two-year extension on those very cuts, the president vowed to make it a campaign issue, and Romney is his in-road.

Sensitive to that, both Mitt and Ann Romney have been on the defensive, insisting that “there’s nothing we’re hiding” and scolding “small-minded” people who ask for more information on the candidate’s financial background. Romney said earlier this week that he pays taxes every year, claiming, “I’ve never paid less than 13 percent.”

That’s actually lower than the roughly 18 percent in taxes the wealthiest 400 Americans paid in 2008, according to the Internal Revenue Service (PDF). The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service also said last year that about 25 percent of American millionaires paid lower tax rates in 2006 than middle class Americans, who typically gave about 26 percent of their incomes to the government.

In addition to allowing tax cuts for the very rich to finally expire after 12 years, President Obama said he wants to implement more fair tax rates under the so-called “Buffett rule,” named after billionaire investor Warren Buffet, who supports Obama. Buffet explained in an editorial last year that he believes it is fundamentally unfair that the government asks him to pay a lower tax rate than most middle class families.

The president has also pushed for tax reforms that both lower the corporate tax rate and close loopholes which allow wealthy individuals and corporations, like Romney and his former private equity firm Bain Capital, to pay nothing on profits sheltered in offshore tax havens. The left-leaning Tax Justice Network published a study in July that claimed wealthy individuals and businesses all around the world currently stash up to $32 trillion in the global network of tax havens that could potentially be targeted by the president’s tax reforms, but Obama’s nominee to run the Treasury Department said in May that no specific plan has been drafted yet.

Conversely, Romney has proposed offering the largest tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans and raising taxes on the poorest Americans, while promising to offset those revenue losses with tax reforms and deep budget cuts that he has yet to detail.

Photo: Maria Dryfhout / Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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