By KASIE HUNT, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
DENVER — Offering tax reform ideas before his first debate with President Barack Obama, Mitt Romney says he might be willing to reduce income tax deductions used by millions of families for home mortgage interest and health care costs
Romney suggested the changes could be part of a plan that includes a 20 percent cut in tax rates across the board, continuation of upper income tax cuts that Obama wants to end and a comprehensive tax overhaul plan that the Republican presidential contender has so far declined to flesh out in detail. Romney says his overall plans would invigorate the slowly recovering U.S. economy.
Both Romney and Obama spent Tuesday mostly in private, preparing for the debate, the president in Henderson, Nev., near Las Vegas, Romney already in Denver where the faceoff will take place Wednesday at 9 p.m. EDT. Neither held public campaign events, but Obama took a break from preparation to visit nearby Hoover Dam, and Romney picked up lunch at a Chipotle Mexican Grill near his hotel.
In an interview Monday night with Denver TV station KDVR, Romney said, "As an option you could say everybody's going to get up to a $17,000 deduction. And you could use your charitable deduction, your home mortgage deduction, or others – your health care deduction, and you can fill that bucket, if you will, that $17,000 bucket that way. And higher income people might have a lower number."
A Romney adviser said changes in other areas – a taxpayer's personal exemption and the deduction or credit for health care – would also be taken into account if deductions were limited as Romney suggested. Combining changes to those two areas with the limit on deductions would maintain Romney's goal of keeping tax burdens the same for wealthy and middle income taxpayers, the adviser said. Under such a proposal, some taxpayers' deductions could remain unchanged.
On another controversial subject, in a separate local interview ahead of the debate, Romney told The Denver Post that he would honor the temporary permission the Obama administration has granted to many young illegal immigrants to allow them to stay in the country.
Obama announced in June that he would prevent deportation for some children brought to the United States by illegal immigrant parents. Applicants must not have a serious criminal record and must meet other requirements, such as graduating from high school or serving in the U.S. military.
Romney had previously refused to say if he would retain the policy if he won the election.
He granted the interviews as he and Obama looked ahead to the debate, the first of three they will hold before Election Day, Nov. 6.
The debates, expected to draw a huge nationwide audience, takes place with most polls showing Obama slightly ahead both nationally and in the battleground states expected to settle the election.
Away from Denver, the campaign pressed ahead Tuesday on TV airwaves, in courts and in local election officials' offices across the states.
The Romney-supporting independent group Crossroads GPS launched an $11 million, 10-day ad campaign in eight swing states. Its new ad criticizes Obama's assertion that unemployment would fall if Congress passed his proposed stimulus law. The national unemployment rate still stands above 8 percent.
In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, a judge struck down a much-debated voter identification law, a victory for state Democrats who argued that it would prevent many minorities and elderly people from voting. The judge, Robert Simpson, wrote that he was concerned by the state's stumbling efforts to create a photo ID that would be easily accessible to voters. Pennsylvania, while long considered a battleground state, has backed Democrats in presidential elections for decades, and Romney has trailed Obama in polls there.
On another voter-eligibility matter, Romney's campaign has sent letters to election officials in Wisconsin, Mississippi and Vermont asking that the deadline for receiving ballots from military and overseas voters be extended.
In Denver, in his comments on taxes, Romney also cited the tax plan included in the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission recommendations as a possible course. That plan calls for reducing the top income tax rates. To pay for that, the plan would eliminate or reduce many popular tax breaks, including deductions for charitable donations and mortgage interest.
While Romney did not commit to making any specific changes, saying he would work with Congress, his suggestions were more specific than those he had offered in the past and provided a new window into his thinking on the subject. In the spring, Romney told donors that he would consider eliminating home mortgage deductions for second homes. That conversation, behind closed doors, was overheard by reporters standing on a private sidewalk.
The numbers are important because Romney has said that he will lower tax rates across the board without reducing government revenue. He also says he wants wealthy Americans to continue to shoulder the same share of the tax burden as they do today. One way to make the numbers add up would be to adjust tax deductions and exemptions.
Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul insisted his plan still would cut taxes for middle income earners. "There are a range of policy options, Gov. Romney referenced one illustrative example, to achieve these goals," Saul said in an emailed statement. She did not mention any other options.
Vice presidential nominees Joe Biden and Paul Ryan campaigned Tuesday in North Carolina and Iowa, respectively. Romney's campaign is looking to regain ground on Obama after falling further behind in battleground state polls in the wake of a video showing the Republican telling donors that 47 percent of Americans believe they are victims who are entitled to government assistance. A voter in Iowa asked Ryan about the exchange, and he acknowledged Romney's comments had muddied the political landscape.
"Sometimes the point doesn't get made the right way," he said.
Romney's interviews with Denver outlets were the last ones planned before he takes the stage Wednesday night. Moderator Jim Lehrer plans to focus on the economy, health care and the role of government.
Romney's tax plans are likely to be one focus. U.S. tax law at one time limited tax deductions and personal exemptions for high income people, but those limits were removed as part of the massive package of tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush. The limits are scheduled to return next year, when the Bush-era tax cuts are scheduled to expire unless Congress acts in the meantime. Romney and other Republicans want to extend all the tax cuts while Congress works to overhaul the federal tax code. Obama wants to extend them for individuals making less than $200,000 and married couples making less than $250,000.
Romney says his plan would generate the same amount of tax revenue as the current system but do it more efficiently, without raising taxes on any group of people. Romney also says he would not raise taxes on investment income.
The Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan research group, says it is impossible to reduce tax rates by 20 percent for the wealthy without shifting some of the tax burden to middle class families. The Romney campaign disputes the study, which has also been challenged by several conservative think tanks.
Texas Governor Rick Perry's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/09/rick-pery-forgets-federal-agencies_n_1085312.html" target="_hplink">inability to remember</a> the third agency he would cut as president had many predicting the untimely end of his campaign for president. Perry addressed his mental lapse before reporters after the debate, admitting, "Yeah I stepped in it man. Yeah it was embarrassing. Of course it was."
Romney's '$10,000 Bet'
During a GOP primary debate in late 2011, Romney sought to put an end to then-presidential candidate Rick Perry's insistance that Romneycare was the basis of President Barack Obama's health care reform law. Perry launched in with an attack that he'd repeated before: "I'm just saying, you're for individual mandates, my friend," Perry said. "You've raised that before, Rick, and you're simply wrong," Romney responded, extending his hand toward Perry. "Rick, I'll tell you what: 10,000 bucks? $10,000 bet?" Perry declined, nothing that he wasn't a betting man, leaving Romney to quote a chapter from his book that he cited as proof he had never intended for his health care plan to be used as a national model.
Bachmann On Libya, Africa
At a GOP primary debate in October of 2011, Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/18/michele-bachmann-libya-africa_n_1018814.html" target="_hplink">criticized</a> Obama's foreign policy decisions. "Now with the president, he put us in Libya," she said. "He is now putting us in Africa. We already were stretched too thin, and he put our special operations forces in Africa." Libya is, in fact, a country in Africa.
During a 2010 gubernatorial debate, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/02/jan-brewer-starts-badly-f_n_703559.html" target="_hplink">struggled to name</a> any of her accomplishments while introducing herself. "We have ... done so much ... We have um, did what was right for Arizona," she squeezed out after a long silent pause.
Can't Name Any Supreme Court Cases
Christine O'Donnell was unable to name a single recent Supreme Court decision she disagreed with, when asked by moderator Nancy Karibjanian during a 2010 Delaware Senate debate. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/10/13/christine-odonnell-stumped-supreme-court-debate_n_762067.html" target="_hplink">The dialogue</a>: <blockquote><strong>KARIBJANIAN</strong>: What opinions, of late, that have come from our high court, do you most object to? <strong>O'DONNELL</strong>: Oh, gosh. Um, give me a specific one. I'm sorry. <strong>KARIBJANIAN</strong>: Actually, I can't, because I need you to tell me which ones you object to. <strong>O'DONNELL</strong>: Um, I'm very sorry, right off the top of my head, I know that there are a lot, but I'll put it up on my website, I promise you.</blockquote>
Can I Call You Joe?
When Sarah Palin and Joe Biden shook hands at the start of a 2008 vice presidential debate, Palin asked then then-Senator "Hey, Can I call you Joe?" "You can call me Joe," Biden replied. Palin <a href="http://www.politico.com/blogs/bensmith/0110/Two_versions_of_Can_I_call_you_Joe.html" target="_hplink">evidently kept confusing</a> then-Senator Joe Biden's last name with President Barack Obama's, referring to the VP candidate repeatedly as "O'Biden" in debate prep. Her staffers suggested she call him by his first name.
Change You Can Xerox
Hilary Clinton's attempt at a jab toward President Barack Obama got her booed by the audience during a 2008 presidential debate. Clinton accused Obama of plagiarism in his popular speeches, saying "Lifting whole passages from someone else's speeches is not change you can believe in, it's change you can Xerox."
During a Democratic presidential primary debate in early 2008, then-candidate Hillary Clinton was being pressed on surveys that suggested New Hampshire voters appreciated her resume, but found then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) more likable. Clinton appeared to feign insult, drawing sympathetic applause and smiles from the crowd. "Well, that hurts my feelings," she said. "But I'll try to go on. "He's very likable," Clinton continued of Obama. "I agree with that. I don't think I'm that bad." Obama took a brief break from scribbling notes to weigh in. "You're likable enough, Hillary," Obama said tersely, not making eye contact with Clinton. He then returned to his notepad.
Al Gore's Sighing
A 2000 presidential debate seriously hurt Al Gore's campaign when the cutaway shots caught him rolling his eyes and sighing audibly during George W. Bush's answers. Critics say behavior made Gore look elitist and unlikable in contrast with Bush's relaxed and folksy demeanor. Jon Stewart mocks Gore's sighs in The Daily Show clip above.
Let Me Finish
Ross Perot may go down in history for his repeated interruptions of "let me finish" during a 1992 presidential debate. The behavior became fodder for SNL comedian Dana Carvey's Perot impression.
Glancing At His Watch
George H. W. Bush was caught glancing at his watch during a 1992 presidential debate with Bill Clinton and Ross Perot. The now-famous move damaged Bush's campaign, making him look bored and impatient, <a href="http://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2008/01/17/a-damaging-impatience" target="_hplink">reports say</a>. Bush snuck at peek at his watch again during his daughter-in-law Laura Bush's speech at the Republican convention in 2008.
Who Am I? Why Am I Here?
When Independent Presidential candidate Ross Perot picked Vietnam War hero Admiral James Stockdale for his VP nominee, it created a rare three-person Vice Presidential debate in 1992. Stockdale was not a politician and not very well known. Attempting to introduce itself and poke some fun at this, he chose as his opening statement: "Who am I? Why am I here?" Stockdale later said he hoped to follow up the remarks with an explanation of his life, but never got to that point. Instead, the line left viewers wondering the same thing.
Dispassionate Death Penalty Response
When the moderator of a 1988 presidential debate asked Governor Michael Dukakis if he would support the death penalty if his wife, Kitty Dukakis, was raped and murdered, Dukakis dispassionately responded, "No, I don't, Bernard, and I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life." He then continued to talk about his stance. Some believe the lack of emotion or passion for the hypothetical situation cost Dukakis the election.
You're No Jack Kennedy
In the 1988 Vice Presidential debate between Democratic VP candidate Senator Lloyd Bentsen and Republican VP candidate Senator Dan Quayle, Quayle was asked if his qualifications were sufficient to inherit the presidency, should it come to that. Quayle responded by comparing his experience level Jack Kennedy's experience level when he sought the presidency. The comparison prompted Bensten to say: "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." Quayle responded, "That was really uncalled for Senator."
No Soviet Domination
In the 1976 presidential debate between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, Ford famously stated "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe." The remark came in response to a question about U.S. relations with the Soviet Union, a major concern in the Cold War era, and didn't sit well with an increasingly anti-Soviet public. Ford refused to back down from the claim even after the somewhat baffled debate moderator responded, "I'm sorry, what? ... Did I understand you to say, sir, that the Russians are not using Eastern Europe as their own sphere of influence in occupying most of the countries there and making sure with their troops that it's a communist zone?"
Sickly Nixon vs. Fit JFK
The 1960 presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon was the first nationally televised debate in the U.S. and <a href="http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2021078,00.html" target="_hplink">is thought to have</a> changed politics forever. The debate was historically declared a win for Kennedy by those who watched it on TV, and a win for Nixon for those who listened to it on the radio. Though the candidates were both strong on the issues, the visibly sweating Nixon looked sickly and pale compared to the young and fit Kennedy.