Aides Play Down Romney’s Talk on Taxes for Wealthy
By MICHAEL D. SHEAR
Published: April 16, 2012
Senior advisers to Mitt Romney said Monday that Mr. Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, was merely tossing around ideas, not making policy announcements, when his chat with donors about some significant changes to the tax code was overheard by reporters at a fund-raiser this weekend.
Campaign surrogates and officials played down Mr. Romney’s candid talk about tax changes for the wealthy, including ending mortgage interest deductions for second homes, eliminating deductions for state and local taxes, as well as closing or merging federal agencies that deal with education and housing.
Those remarks to a backyard gathering of high-dollar donors in Palm Beach, Fla., on Sunday night were overheard by reporters for NBC News and The Wall Street Journal, prompting a day of explanation by Mr. Romney’s campaign and a new opening for attack by President Obama’s campaign and the Democrats.
Advisers to Mr. Obama used Mr. Romney’s comments as evidence that he and his campaign regularly hide the truth from the public. Democrats have made clear they intend to portray Mr. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, as willing to reveal his intentions only to well-connected donors, not to the public.
“Apparently, Governor Romney believes only high-dollar donors have a right to know what programs he will cut,” wrote Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for Mr. Obama’s campaign, in an e-mail to reporters. “Education. Housing. To pay for $5 trillion tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.”
In trying to convince voters that Mr. Romney is hiding things from voters, Democrats point to the fact that he has not identified his “bundlers,” the handful of major donors who gather up contributions from their wealthy friends. And they have criticized Mr. Romney for releasing only two years of tax returns.
“Mitt Romney has made a disturbing habit of hiding the truth,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, on a conference call with reporters organized by the Democratic National Committee. “It’s safe to predict that this was a hot-mic moment that will linger.”
Andrea Saul, a Romney campaign spokeswoman, responded by referring to hearings into a scandal involving lavish conferences organized by the General Services Administration.
“It’s ironic the Obama campaign would accuse anyone of not being forthcoming on the same day a top official from President Obama’s scandal-plagued G.S.A. is hiding behind the Fifth Amendment before a committee of Congress,” Ms. Saul said.
Officials with Mr. Romney’s campaign said he was not unveiling new policies at the fund-raiser. They accused Democrats of using the episode to try to distract attention from the economic situation under Mr. Obama.
“While President Obama is interested only in offering excuses and blaming others for his failures, Governor Romney is discussing some of the ideas he has to tackle the big issues facing America,” Ms. Saul said.
At the fund-raiser, Mr. Romney and his wife, Ann, offered candid and casual observations that did not appear intended for wider public consumption.
Mr. Romney, instance, remarked that Fox News was watched by “true believers,” and that the Republican Party needed to broaden its appeal to women and independents, according to NBC. And Mrs. Romney said that she “loved” the fallout generated when a Democratic political operative said that Mrs. Romney had “never worked a day in her life.”
“It was my early birthday present for someone to be critical of me as a mother, and that was really a defining moment,” NBC quoted her as saying.
Mr. Romney told the donors that the housing agency “might not be around later” and said the Education Department would be “a heck of a lot smaller,” if not eliminated altogether. And he said that the party must do more to woo Hispanic voters.
“We have to get Hispanic voters to vote for our party,” Mr. Romney said, adding that if Mr. Obama wins big among Hispanics it “spells doom for us.”
Publicly, Mr. Romney has hinted that he would limit deductions for wealthy homeowners, but has not said how. And he has resisted offering many details about the cuts to government spending that would allow him to achieve the kind of deficit reductions he has projected, considering the tax cuts he has discussed.
In an interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC News taped Monday, Mr. Romney said he had chosen his former chief of staff to oversee the process of picking a running mate, and joked that Mr. Obama should “start packing.” Mr. Romney predicted that Mr. Obama would “do everything possible to divert from the attention being focused upon his record as president and the failure of his economic policies.” Mrs. Romney expressed confidence, calling it “Mitt’s time.”