Speaking at the Univision candidate forum in Miami Thursday, President Barack Obama was asked about Mitt Romney's claim that he is campaigning for 100 percent of Americans and not just those who pay federal income taxes, despite his comments in a leaked fundraiser video.
Obama said that questions as to which approach personified "the real Mitt Romney" would be "better addressed" to Romney himself. He went on to explain why 47 percent of Americans don't pay federal income taxes, and snuck in a subtle jab at Romney's own wealth.
"There are a whole bunch of millionaires who aren’t paying taxes at all, either," the president said.
When you express a position like the one Romney did in that leaked video, said Obama, "my thinking is maybe you haven't gotten around a lot. Because I travel around the country all the time and the American people are the hardest working people there are."
"Their problem isn't that they aren't working hard enough ... or they are being taxed too little or they just want to loaf around and gather government checks," he added. "Americans work hard, and if they're not working right now, I promise you they want to get back to work."
Romney has spent the last few days dealing with the fallout from the video, secretly recorded at a May fundraiser in Boca Raton, Fla. In it, Romney says that the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay federal income taxes think of themselves as victims who can live off government handouts, and "will vote for the president no matter what."
Appearing at the Univision forum on Wednesday, Romney revised those remarks to stress that he was campaigning on behalf of all Americans, and not just the remaining 53 percent. He also stressed his desire to see more people earning an income that could, in turn, be subject to taxation.
Romney personally paid a 13.9 percent tax rate in 2010, according to his tax return released from that year -- the only one he has released in full. He said that he didn't pay a lower rate than that in the 10 years prior. He is, in short, not part of the 47 percent.
But that group pays taxes as well, including payroll taxes, gasoline taxes, sales taxes, and state and local taxes. Many of them are elderly, unemployed, the working poor or veterans.
Also among the 47 percent are the ultra-wealthy. According to former Ronald Reagan adviser Bruce Bartlett, writing in The New York Times, 78,000 tax filers in the U.S. have incomes between $211,000 and $533,000 and pay no federal income taxes. "Even more amazingly," Barlett writes, "there are 24,000 households with incomes of $533,000 to $2.2 million with zero income tax liability, and 3,000 tax filers with incomes above $2.2 million with the same federal income tax liability as most of those with incomes barely above the poverty level."
Barlett points out that the reason these wealthy Americans are not paying federal income taxes is not because of the earned-income or child tax credits. "One reason, undoubtedly, is that capital gains are a huge percentage of their income and they may have losses from previous years to offset any realized gains this year," he writes. "Perhaps some chose to invest all their wealth in tax-free municipal bonds."