Mitt Romney was right (on taxes)

April 15, 2013

More than eight in 10 Americans believe that you should do everything you can to pay the lowest tax rate possible, according to new Washington Post-ABC News polling, a finding that suggests that people likely hold politicians to a standard of conduct they themselves don't adhere to.


Two-time presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Eighty-five percent of Americans -- and 86 percent of registered voters -- say they approve of people "doing everything within the law to lower their taxes." Nearly six in 10 say they "strongly" approve of doing all you can to pay as little as possible. Those numbers are remarkably consistent across party lines, with 90 percent of self-identified Republicans expressing that view, as well as 83 percent of Democrats and 82 percent of independents.

And yet, people regularly pillory politicians -- particularly the wealthy ones -- for doing what they can to pay as little as possible.

Remember Mitt Romney? The two-time presidential candidate, whose considerable wealth made the release of his tax returns a focal point of the 2012 campaign, insisted that he paid what was required but no more.

“I pay all the taxes that are legally required and not a dollar more," Romney said at a debate in January 2012 just prior to releasing his 2010 and 2011 returns. "I don’t think you want someone as the candidate for president who pays more taxes than he owes.”

Eighty-five percent of the American public should have agreed with Romney. But, of course, they didn't. Romney was cast as trying to game the system for the benefit of himself and his wealthy friends. In a February 2012 Washington Post-ABC News poll, two in three Americans said Romney did not pay his fair share of taxes (the public was split over the question in the fall). And a majority of voters in the 2012 exit poll said  Romney's policies would generally favor the rich, and he lost that portion of the vote overwhelmingly.

It's not just Romney who is held to a taxing double standard -- not bad, eh? -- by the public.  President Obama released his 2012 taxes last Friday afternoon (the timing was not an accident), returns that showed he paid an effective tax rate of 18.4 percent last year. The Drudge Report, a popular conservative-leaning aggregation site, quickly went with a banner expressing incredulity at the 18 percent rate. Conservatives on twitter were similarly disgruntled.

Why the double standard? Perhaps because -- at least in the case of Obama and Romney -- politicians who run for president tend to be people of significantly more means than the average person. And, there is a general sentiment in the country that to whom much is given, much is expected.

Whatever the reason, the disconnect between the massive majority of the public who believe paying as a little as possible in taxes makes sense and the disdain with which they hold their politicians trying to do the same suggests that elected officials in future campaigns will continue to view the release of their tax returns as news to be buried, not touted.

Manchin-Toomey gun compromise gets a boost. Will it pass? The proposed measure to expand background checks on gun sales that Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) announced last week picked up the support Sunday of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, a group calling itself the second-largest gun rights organization in the United States. The endorsement comes days before the Senate is expected to vote on the measure, which faces an uncertain fate.

Three Republican senators -- Toomey, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Susan Collins of Maine -- have agreed to support the deal, while a fourth, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, said Sunday he is "very favorably disposed." Democratic aides say the bill will need the backing of at least six Republican senators to pass. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he hasn't done a whip count to see if the votes will be there.

Fixbits: 

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) threw his full weight behind the bipartisan immigration reform proposal drafted by the Senate's so-called "Gang of Eight" that is slated to be unveiled on Tuesday. Here are five senators to watch with regard to the measure.

Rubio also said Jay-Z "needs to get informed."

Former Ohio Democratic congressman Charlie Wilson died at the age of 70.

GOP mega donor Bob Perry died at the age of 80.

2010 Republican Senate nominee Joe Miller of Alaska is launching an exploratory committee for a bid against Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska).

Rick Santorum canceled appearances at two Iowa fundraisers slated for Monday due to illness. "While traveling in South Carolina on Saturday, Rick Santorum became ill and was admitted to the hospital for a gastro-intestinal illness and dehydration. He is feeling better today but remains in the hospital and is unable to travel to Iowa," a spokesperson said.

Tennessee Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais's primary opponent, state Sen. Jim Tracy, raised about $450,000 during the first quarter and banked $400,000. DesJarlais ended 2012 with only about $9,300 in the bank. Here's a refresher on the problems that have plagued DesJarlais.

Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords will be on Capitol Hill this week.

Former Massachusetts Republican senator Scott Brown wouldn't tip his hand about whether or not he will run for the Senate in New Hampshire next year.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) had "no comment" on a possible New York City mayoral bid by former congressman Anthony Weiner.

Must-reads: 

"With endorsement of immigration plan, Rubio makes first major policy gambit of his career" -- David Nakamura, Washington Post

"Obama’s Budget Revives Benefits as Divisive Issue" -- Jackie Calmes, New York Times

"The Albany Machiavelli" -- Chris Smith, New York Magazine

"Mitch McConnell in no mood for bipartisanship" -- John Bresnahan and Jake Sherman, Politico

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Chris Cillizza · April 14, 2013