Mitt Romney proved this week that he really isn’t like most Americans.
“I did go back and look at my taxes and over the past 10 years,” Romney said on a tarmac after landing for a fundraiser in Greer, S.C. on Thursday. “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.”
Romney was responding to a pledge he made last month during an interview with ABC News, saying he would be “happy to go back and look” at his tax rate over the last decade, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) accused Romney of paying no taxes at all during that period.
Reid admittedly was passing along information he had heard and never really did his homework to see if Romney really hadn’t paid taxes and that probably wasn’t Reid’s real point.
What he wanted to do was pressure Romney into revealing more than the two years of tax returns. The presumptive Republican nominee has said he would only reveal his 2010 and 2011 returns.
Romney released his 2010 tax return in January, which revealed he paid 13.9 percent in federal taxes on $21.7 million in income. This does not include personal property or sales taxes.
Because most of Romney’s income comes from investments, which is taxed at a lower rate (15 percent) than regular income, he pays a much lower tax rate than most Americans.
Therein lies the problem.
Romney has done nothing illegal and, like most Americans, he – or rather his accountants – looks for every opportunity to pay as little in taxes as possible. He simply has more opportunities than most to beat the tax man. And that’s his version of normal.
If that $21 million had come from regular wages, Romney would be at the top tax rate of 35 percent.
Instead, not only is the 15 percent really, really low on a substantial amount of money, but it’s lower than what most Americans pay. The Congressional Budget Office reports that the average American paid a tax rate of 17.9 percent in 2009 and you can bet it’s on a much lower income than Romney’s.
So does the average really need to know how much Romney earned every year for the last 10 years?
If his effective rate hovers between 13 and 15 percent, doesn’t that establish that Romney isn’t like most Americans? And does it really matter? Is his income important in determining whether he would be a good president?
He certainly wouldn’t be the first rich, or at least affluent, man in the White House. What does matter is whether he would pursue policies that would benefit the great majority of Americans.
While he claims to have his own tax plan, it largely mirrors that of congressional Republicans who have decided to cut taxes and spending, regardless of whom it hurts – even some of their own presumed constituencies – rather than raise personal income taxes for the wealthy or find some other non-income taxes to balance the budget.
His running mate, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), has proposed a budget that would cut Medicare spending and foster a market-based health care system, and would make stringent cuts in federal agencies across the board that would, over the next decade, affect air traffic safety, road and bridge repairs and pollution reduction, which affects asthma rates – a particular area of concern for black Americans. Those cuts, if approved, would shift the way we live from enduring minor inconveniences to facing real threats to the way we maintain our health and safety long after a Romney-Ryan team left office, even if they were to win two terms.
That largely would fall on the backs of middle- and lower-income people.
What Romney pays in taxes may give voters some insight into how much or how little he gets problems with the economy and Americans’ earning power – before and after taxes – but it’s just an opening to encourage voters to dig deeper into his agenda for the country.