“You can call this class warfare all you want,” Obama said. “But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense.”
To Republicans, Romney is an exemplar of the capitalist system, a wealthy man who propels the economy through successful investments. Many of them think he should pay even less to the federal government. Indeed, Newt Gingrich, Romney’s chief rival for the GOP presidential nomination, has proposed eliminating taxes on investment income altogether — a move that would push Romney’s tax rate near zero.
This ideological divide has shaped the parties’ competing visions for how to heal the wounded economy, plans that are typically unfurled on the campaign trail with vague promises and glossy platitudes. Romney’s tax returns put a face on the competing proposals, offering a real-life example of their consequences.
Although he defended his tax payments as “entirely legal and fair,” Romney signaled unease with the direction that many in his party are taking in suggesting he pay less. During a debate Monday in Tampa, Romney noted that “I’d have paid no taxes in the last two years” under Gingrich’s tax proposals.
Stuart Stevens, a senior adviser for Romney, picked up that theme Tuesday, arguing that Gingrich’s proposal favors the wealthy over the middle class. “Speaker Gingrich has a tax plan where someone like Governor Romney wouldn’t pay anything in taxes,” Stevens said. “Governor Romney thinks that’s unfair.”
The debate over Romney’s tax rate comes as Democrats are ramping up an election-year argument that the wealthy should pay more to help finance government services and close a yawning budget deficit. In a time of rising income inequality, when the rich are reaping an expanding share of the nation’s wealth and middle-class wages have stagnated, Obama said Tuesday that the rich must shoulder a greater share of the economic burden.
Obama has called for a rewrite of the tax code that would raise the top tax rate on earned income. On Tuesday, the White House said the president would call on Congress to wipe out lucrative tax breaks on mortgage interest, health insurance and retirement savings for those who earn more than $1 million a year.
If that doesn’t do the trick, White House officials said Obama would implement a rule that would explicitly require millionaires to send at least 30 percent of their income to Washington, although they provided few details about how that would be accomplished.