WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney on Thursday said he has paid a tax rate of at least 13 percent on his income taxes for the last 10 years -- and said "fascination" with his taxes was "small-minded compared to the big issues that we face."
If Romney thought his dismissive comments would make the matter of disclosure go away, he's wrong.
Campaigning in South Carolina, Romney said, "I just have to say, given the challenges that America faces -- 23 million people out of work, Iran about to become nuclear, 1 out of 6 Americans in poverty -- the fascination with taxes I 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 [percent] or something."
Of course people have a sense of proportionality when it comes to issues. This is not an either/or situation. Release tax returns or create jobs? Release tax returns or strip Iran of nuclear capability? Release tax returns or foster energy independence? It's a false argument.
This comes as the Obama team has been stepping up pressure on Romney to release more federal returns, confident they have a winning issue with swing voters.
I understand Romney's reluctance to release more returns. It's a reasonable strategic political choice that the grief he will get for non-disclosure is less than the trouble he may face if he does.
Ann Romney put it well in a NBC interview broadcast Thursday.
"Have you seen how we're attacked? Have you seen what's happened? And so we have done what's legally required, and there's going to be no more -- there's going to be no more tax releases given... And the only reason we don't disclose any more is, you know, [we would] just become a bigger target," she said.
The Obama campaign wants more returns to mine the data for stuff to hit Romney with as they continue on the offensive -- to define him on the stump through surrogates and in paid ads -- as so wealthy that he can't relate to everyday working people.
The Romneys released their joint 2010 return -- which showed $21.7 million in income. The Romney team left open the possibility Romney may make public their 2011 taxes -- while resisting calls for returns for more years.
Based on what Romney has disclosed, the Obama team has been bashing Romney's perfectly legal tax strategies for:
◆ having a Swiss bank account -- which the couple did between 2003 and 2010.
◆ investments in a tax haven, the Cayman Islands.
◆ paying an effective tax rate of 13.9 percent in 2010 -- less than many salaried workers.
Many middle-income folks pay more--because taxes on earned or salary income are higher than taxes on investments, which is how Romney made a lot of his money.
For the tax year 2012, the top tax rate was 35 percent for earned salary of $388,350 and above. People who make between $8,700 and $35,350 pay 15 percent.
Obama has been pushing for wealthy folks to pay at least 30 percent, no matter how they make their money -- that's in his proposed "Buffett Rule," named after investor Warren Buffett.
The Romney tax returns disclosure controversy escalated even more when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) accused Romney -- from the Senate floor, with absolutely no evidence -- of paying no taxes in the past 10 years.
You may wonder why Romney would be trumpeting that he never paid less than 13 percent for the past decade, when most of us who draw a salary have a much higher tax burden.
Because it sure looks better than paying nothing.