Democrats, White House wage coordinated attack on Romney taxes

WASHINGTON Wed Aug 8, 2012 3:26am IST

1 of 2. Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney talks on his cell phone as he leaves a pharmacy while running errands in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire August 6, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senator Harry Reid and the White House may be taking different roads, but when it comes to Mitt Romney and his taxes, the destination is the same.

That became clearer than ever Monday in the daily White House briefing by spokesman Jay Carney. While keeping a distance from Senate Majority Leader Reid and his claim that Romney failed to pay taxes for 10 years, Carney was happy to take advantage of all the attention, and questions, provoked by the allegation to drive home the administration's broader message.

The bare-knuckle fight over Mitt Romney's tax returns has become part of one effort led by the two highest-ranking Democrats in the country aimed at convincing voters that the Republican presidential candidate cannot be trusted to protect middle-class taxpayers if he won the White House.

"I'm not aware of the White House speaking to Senator Reid about this issue," Carney said Monday. "I would simply say that you all probably know Senator Reid well, and he speaks for himself, and he has addressed this issue."

But, he added, "The reason why this is an issue at a policy level is the president believes very strongly ... that we need to have greater tax fairness and that we need to make sure that we're passing laws that protect the middle class, that specifically give the middle class a tax cut extension, and that we're not passing laws that give tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires who have already enjoyed substantial tax breaks in the past."

Reid continues to cite as his source only a single unnamed investor with Bain Capital, the firm that Romney headed for many years.

Romney denies Reid's charge and has called on him to "put up or shut up." Surrogates rushed to his defense over the weekend, with Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus on Sunday calling Reid "a dirty liar" and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham saying the top Senate Democrat was "making things up."

It might be impossible to know which side is right unless Romney releases a decade's worth of tax returns -- something he so far has refused to do.

In the meantime, Democrats are laying down a narrative and keeping it in the news that likely will extend through the November 6 presidential and congressional elections. Its theme is that Republicans want nothing more than to raise taxes on the middle class to help finance tax cuts for the rich with none other than the Republican standard-bearer being the poster child for who would benefit in a Romney administration.

The strategy is a familiar one in modern campaigns, with extreme accusations from outside a campaign serving as a way for the campaign itself to highlight its message without embracing the inflammatory rhetoric.

In the 2004 presidential campaign, it was the "swift boat" attack ads that became a central theme in the drive to defeat President George W. Bush's Democratic challenger, John Kerry.

Four years later, when Barack Obama first campaigned for president, some opposition groups challenged his eligibility to run, claiming he was not a "natural born citizen" as required by the U.S. Constitution.

Sometimes the attacks work (2004) and sometimes they do not (2008) and Republicans are banking on Reid's broadside failing.

"They (Democrats) keep trying to get something to catch fire, but it's not catching fire," said one Republican strategist, arguing public opinion polls show that voters put a low priority on raising taxes on the rich and are much more focused on the need for job creation in a weak economy.

But Democrats sense a winning hand as surveys they look at point at voter support for having the rich pay more taxes to help share the burden of deficit reduction.

A senior Democratic aide, who asked not to be identified, said Democrats are rallying around their leaders' demands that Romney, a multi-millionaire, open his tax records.

But there will also be a "pivot," the aide said, to simultaneously focus on the impact of Romney's tax-cut plans.

"He (Romney) has used every loophole to pay less than the average middle-class family," the aide said, adding, "The larger question is, the tax structure he wants to see as president ... members (of Congress) are going to go after that as the subject of the larger story."

Democrats got a boost last week, when the respected Tax Policy Center released a new analysis of Romney's tax-cut proposals.

"Our major conclusion is that a revenue-neutral individual income tax change that incorporates the features Governor Romney has proposed ... would provide large tax cuts to high-income households, and increase the tax burdens on middle- and/or lower-income taxpayers," the report said.

'COWARDS,' 'HENCHMEN'

For now, in the midst of a political dead zone, the summer doldrums before the Democratic and Republican presidential nominating conventions and as U.S. voters are more fixated on the Olympic Games than politics, the sniping over Romney's tax forms continues.

Reid's chief of staff, David Krone, in an interview with Politico, accused Republicans of being "a bunch of cowards" in the face of demands for Romney's tax forms.

Congressional staffers generally shy away from publicly criticizing anyone, much less members of Congress. Not so for Krone. "Lindsey Graham, Reince Priebus — they're a bunch of henchmen for Romney," he told Politico.

Reid has a history of being provocative.

In 2007, as Iraq fell into civil war, Reid said the U.S.-led war was "lost." Two years earlier, he was quoted in the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper saying then President Bush was "a loser," a quip that he quickly apologized for.

This time around, Reid is showing no signs of backing down from his claim that Romney is using the tax code to legally avoid paying taxes.

Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson, asked whether the senator approved of Krone's comments, responded, "Yes."

Arguing that the tax code is the "single biggest policy debate we're having in the country right now," Jentleson added: "It's clear Romney's hiding something. He's being asked to be elected president without presenting ... to the American people a huge part of his life - his financial issues."

(Editing by Fred Barbash and Cynthia Osterman)

(This story was refiled to clarify wording on presidential eligibility in the twelfth paragraph)

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Comments (4)
selfstarter wrote:
I am a registered Independent, which means that I am not for or against either party. From what I have read and lived under several US Presidents, I believe that Gov. Romney is the best choice for President in 2012. I also believe that he has the requisite experience both in the public sector and the private sector to get this Country back on fiscal track.

President Obama has not delivered on the promises he has made prior to the 2008 election. I am not surprised by this as most political candidates do not. Washington is a gridlock and has been for a long time.

Even after 3 years and 9 months in office, I still do not know what qualifies President Obama to hold that office.

It is unfortunate that our president has resorted to name calling in this campaign. After listening to his speeches back in 2008, I remember him saying that he was going to “bring the country together”. I don’t think that name calling is the way to accomplish this.

Gov. Romney has complied with the law in this area. Do I care how much money he has, No. Do I care how he plans to spend mine? Yes. I am sure if there was some malfeasance in his tax returns, the IRS would have figured it out long ago. I am sure he uses every loophole there is to LEGALLY pay the least amount of taxes possible, don’t we all? His tax returns are probably longer than most novels and it would take years to digest what is in them.

Some do not know that Gov. Romney took no salary while he was Governor of Mass. In addition, some would not know that he gives more to charity than most everyone, and dedicated several years of his life to doing charity work. I wish I was half the American that he is.

I think if you look at what Gov. Romney has accomplished in his life, and compare that to Pres. Obama, I think you will find out who the more qualified person is for the toughest job in the world. “Just because you have the job, doesn’t mean you are doing the job”.

Just a tidbit from From Wikipedia:

Mr. Romney was elected Governor of Massachusetts in 2002 but did not seek re-election in 2006. During his term he presided over the elimination of a projected $3 billion deficit by reducing state funding for higher education, cutting state aid to cities and towns, raising various fees, removing corporate tax loopholes, and benefiting from unanticipated federal grants and unexpected revenue from a previously enacted capital gains tax increase.

Aug 07, 2012 5:01am IST  --  Report as abuse
Seth_Smith wrote:
Let’s see … Romney gave McCain 20+ years of tax returns; McCain passed on Romney and went with Palin for the VP. Yep, there is almost certainly something bad in those tax returns. Actually, I think it is Romney who needs to “put up or shut up” about this issue.

Aug 07, 2012 5:02am IST  --  Report as abuse
dalshidi wrote:
I find it amazing that you being a reporter write this story knowing that it is illegal for anyone especially a person of Mitts status not to pay taxes for 10 years. We all know that this is just a distraction from the real issues facing america today, and that is what matters. Almost 80% of news/print media vote democratic, I guess that explains your article

Aug 07, 2012 5:03am IST  --  Report as abuse
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