Romney’s Evasions Are Nothing New
During some Q&A with reporters, Romney claimed:
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.
At first, the thought was, hmm, okay, he’s on the record, so he’s probably telling the truth.
But then everyone started to realize that Romney’s statement was not off-the-cuff, but had been very carefully phrased—so much so that it means almost nothing.
Remember, words—especially when talking about money and economics—can be very cleverly phrased to make something sound like the exact opposite of what it is. A case in point is a Limbaugh favorite, to support trickle-down economics: “In the 1980’s, Reagan lowered taxes, and revenues doubled.” The statement is simple, to the point, and each part of it is true—but the whole statement is as bald-faced as lies get. The revenue doubling does not discount inflation, which makes up most of the increase, leaving only a 19% increase during Reagan’s terms, as much as 7% of which was due to simple population increase; and although Reagan lowered some taxes, he raised others more, making the premise of lowered taxes causing increased revenue unsupportable.
So, how about Romney’s statement?
Note that he did not say the magic words “federal income” taxes. He just said “taxes.” Also, note that he did not say what income he paid the 13% on. It is very likely, almost to the point of assuredness, that Romney paid no taxes on his capital gains income in 2009, and since that constitutes much of what he makes, it is likely that he was not including that in his statement.
In short, what Romney said was essentially meaningless; by playing with words, he could be saying that, if you take his non-capital-gains income, and include property taxes, sales taxes, state income taxes, and every other tax he can account for, the taxes he paid could well add up to more than 13% of his non-investment income.
And yet, in terms of federal income tax, which is what the question was actually asking about, he could have paid zero or close to zero for one or more of those years.
It is similar to what his wife is saying, that they have done what is “legally required,” when in fact, no tax returns are “legally” required and no one suggested they were; and that no one is suggesting that they illegally evaded taxes, instead the whole issue being about what is legally possible to evade.
You have to remember, though, that this is nothing new. In 2000, the question came up about Bush and drugs. At first he tried to evade the question, then he made statements about how he could have passed White House background checks when his father was president—which only ruled out a few decades, but left open the possibility that he was a heavy cocaine abuser in his 20’s. The fact that he didn’t just come out and say, “No, I never used hard drugs” essentially meant that he had, and knew that if he made a statement that he had not, it was possible that some witness or evidence could emerge to contradict him.
The same is true here: Romney is playing games, hoping to twist and turn through the slippery use of language until the media tires of the cat-and-mouse game and turns to other issues.
However, his reticence on his taxes has been so damaging that it is obviously clear that there are details in his returns from 2009 at least, and probably in earlier years as well, which are pretty damning in some way. Romney has judged that it is better for people to suspect that he possesses embarrassing wealth and uses his privilege to avoid his civic duty, than to open his records and remove all doubt.