Mitt Romney showed a little leg on the question of his tax returns today, responding to reporters by saying that he has never paid less than 13% in taxes.
I just have to say, given the challenges that America faces – 23 million people out of work, Iran about to become nuclear, one out of six Americans in poverty – the fascination with taxes I’ve paid I find to be very small-minded compared to the broad issues that we face. But I did go back and look at my taxes and over the past 10 years I never paid less than 13 percent. I think the most recent year is 13.6 or something like that. So I paid taxes every single year. Harry Reid’s charge is totally false. I’m sure waiting for Harry to put up who it was that told him what he says they told him. I don’t believe it for a minute, by the way. But every year I’ve paid at least 13 percent and if you add in addition the amount that goes to charity, why the number gets well above 20 percent.
First of all, money to charity has nothing to do with paying taxes. I spent a lot of money on burritos in 2011. If someone asks me about my tax rate, and I say “I paid 30%, but with burritos that goes up to 35%,” that’s about as meaningful as what Romney said. His charitable deductions reduce his tax rate, in fact, so it’s worse, because he’s counting money on one hand that lowers his rate on the other.
In addition, as Michael O’Hare notes, Romney said he paid 13% “in taxes.” He did not specify. Is that on adjusted gross income? Total income? Total income including sheltered money in offshore accounts? Does that include sales taxes? Property taxes? Gas taxes? Excise taxes? State taxes? What? I don’t think this does anything but intensify the intrigue on this issue.
Also, there’s the matter that 13% is an obscene federal income tax rate for someone with the income of a Mitt Romney.
As for “the fascination with taxes I’ve paid I find to be very small-minded,” don’t worry, Romney has built his campaign on obfuscating on the big stuff too. His running mate plans to get specific on tax policy “in the light of day,” as long as that happens after the election. Romney gave an interview to Fortune where the specific budget cuts he enumerated added up to about 2% of what he’s promised. Romney has yet to give an answer on whether he would cancel the deferred action policy for DREAM-eligible immigrants that the Administration laid out three months ago. So vagueness and secrecy is really an overarching theme of the Romney candidacy, not just on this specific tax return issue.