President Obama releases his taxes every year. But this time they came with a big side of politics.
Obama’s returns don’t exactly depict an everyman: together with Michelle Obama, he reported making $789,674 in the past year. About half of that came from book sales. Their effective tax rate, 20.5 percent, is lower than that of many Americans with lower incomes (for example, Vice President Joe Biden).
But that isn’t the point. The point is to pressure Romney to release his returns.
“Mitt Romney’s defiance of decades of precedent set by presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle, including his own father, begs the question — what does he have to hide? ” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in a statement.
"If he's got nothing to hide, then there's nothing to lose,” added Obama adviser David Plouffe in an interview with Bloomberg.
If Obama is wealthy, Romney is in another category altogether. And if Obama’s tax rate is low, Romney’s is lower.
"It’s no surprise with the worst job creation record in modern history that President Obama would try to distract Americans from the real issues with a series of sideshows,” said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul. “Gov. Romney has already released his 2010 return and an estimate of his 2011 income and taxes. He will release his full 2011 return when it is filed.”
But Obama has been pressuring Romney to release earlier returns, from his time as governor and during his career at Bain Capital.
Moreover, White House Communications Director Jay Carney said, Obama would see his personal taxes go up under his own tax proposals.
While this year Obama falls below the threshold for the “Buffett
Rule,” which would ensure those making over a million a year pay at
least 30 percent of their income in taxes, Carney mentioned it among the tax proposals “that would ask the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share while protecting families making under $250,000 from seeing their taxes go up.”
Given that the Buffett Rule is almost certain to be killed by the Republican House, pushing for that legislation is really about Romney, too.
Charitable giving, which would be exempt under the Buffett Rule, also helped lower the Obamas’ taxes. They gave away $172,130 — 22 percent of their adjusted gross income.
Obama’s tax rate is “unusual for someone with as much adjusted gross income he has,” said Bob Williams of the Tax Policy Center, “but the reason for it is he gives a lot of money away.”
That’s a significant increase from 2010, when the couple gave 14 percent of their income away, even though the Obama’s income declined nearly $1 million due to slower book sales.
Romney also gave away 14 percent of his income in 2010, most of which went to the Mormon church.