Mitt Romney made another attempt yesterday to end the controversy about releasing his income tax returns by declaring that over the past ten years he never paid less than a 13% tax rate. The first problem with that is that it still doesn't answer very many of the questions people have about the tax returns. For example, what techniques did Romney use to reduce his taxable income, or how much in actual dollars did he pay in taxes? (See Ezra Klein's column for a discussion of the "13% of what" problem.)
What is astonishing, however, is the assumption behind Romney's release of this information, that paying 13% is fine and dandy; that our tax system is working wonderfully when it is only collecting 13% of the income of people like him. How far we have come toward accepting a regressive tax system! We are supposed to assume that 13% is a fair percentage for someone of Romney's wealth to pay, even though that percentage is far lower than the percentage paid by millions of people of moderate means. And we're not supposed to see the connection between our large national deficit and the fact that we are asking much less of the wealthiest Americans than we have for decades.
What is even more astonishing, after the admission that he pays only 13% of his (adjusted) income in taxes, is that Romney actually doesn't think that our tax system is working fine. He thinks it is highly unfair. And what is Romney's proposed solution? The centerpiece of Romney's economic plan is a proposal for a sizable tax cut that will largely benefit people in the top brackets. In other words, Romney thinks that the biggest problem with paying 13% in taxes, is that he is paying far too much. I'm searching for words to describe the extent of the cluelessness we are seeing on full display here. Anybody?