Mitt Romney said on Thursday that he has paid at least a 13 percent tax rate every year for the past 10 years, directly rebuking an allegation by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that he paid effectively nothing in income taxes during that time period.
The presumptive Republican nominee was taking questions in Greenville, S.C. with the design of defending his Medicare plan against attacks from Democrats. But the questions gradually turned elsewhere, with the final one going back to the issue that’s vexed Romney for more than a month.
From the pool report of the event:
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.
The comments closed the loop on a promise Romney made several weeks ago to ABC News to go back and check if there had ever been a year in which he had paid an individual income tax rate lower than 13.9 percent, which is what he paid in 2010. They also served as a jab back at Reid, who told The Huffington Post that a Bain investor confided in him that Romney had paid an income tax rate that was effectively nothing for a decade.
The issue may now dissipate a bit. But it's unlikely to go away entirely, as Democrats were quick to demand that Romney actually prove he paid a rate above 13 percent by making one or several years' worth of tax returns public, noting that he didn't clarify if he was referring specifically to income taxes.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said later that he had no real response to Romney's statement.
"I don't have a reaction to that," Carney told reporters during the daily briefing. He reiterated that presidential candidates should release several years of tax returns.
UPDATE: 1:20 p.m. -- Obama for America spokeswoman Lis Smith released the following statement on Mitt Romney’s claim that he never paid less than 13 percent in taxes at any point over the past decade:
Mitt Romney today said that he did indeed ‘go back and look’ at his tax returns and that he never paid less than 13% in taxes in any year over the past decade. Since there is substantial reason to doubt his claims, we have a simple message for him: prove it. Even though he’s invested millions in foreign tax havens, offshore shell corporations, and a Swiss bank account, he’s still asking the American people to trust him. However, given Mitt Romney's secrecy about his returns, coupled with the revelations in just the one return we have seen to date and the inconsistencies between this one return and his other financial disclosures, he has forfeited the right to have us take him just at his word.
UPDATE: 2:50 p.m. -- Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson emailed over the following response to Romney's claim.
We'll believe it when we see it. Until Mitt Romney releases his tax returns, Americans will continue to wonder what he's hiding. Romney seems to think he plays by a different set of rules than every other presidential candidate for the last thirty years, all of whom lived up to the standard of transparency set by Mitt Romney's father and released their tax returns.
UPDATE: 4:50 p.m. -- The Romney campaign clarified to pool reporters later in the day that he was, indeed, "referring to federal income taxes" when he said he paid a rate above 13 percent over the past 10 years.
This solves that riddle. But it's unlikely to quiet those critics who want to see tax returns in order to believe it.