Mitt Romney has released his tax returns for 2010 and 2011 (estimated) today, fulfilling a promise made this week after fumbling the issue last week in two debates. He gave the Washington Post an advance look at the returns yesterday, allowing the media to report the topline numbers before the debate and taking the steam out of the issue by the time Brian Williams first cleared his throat in Florida. The toplines contain no surprises at all:
Mitt Romney offered a partial snapshot of his vast personal fortune late Monday, disclosing income of $21.7 million in 2010 and $20.9 million last year — virtually all of it profits, dividends or interest from investments.
None came from wages, the primary source of income for most Americans. Instead,Romney and his wife, Ann, collected millions in capital gains from a profusion of investments, as well as stock dividends and interest payments. …
For 2011, Romney estimates that he will pay about $3.2 million, for an effective rate of 15.4 percent. That’s in line with his earlier estimates, but sharply lower than the rates paid by President Obama and Romney’s closest Republican rival, Newt Gingrich.
But as the Post reports, it still left plenty of time for some class-warfare attacks from across the aisle:
“The president believes that it is not fair — inherently not fair — that those who are millionaires and billionaires pay at a lower rate than average Americans who are struggling to get by,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Monday. “This theme about economic insecurity for the middle class . . . is what got this president into politics. So this is a foundational belief for him, and he’s happy to have that debate.”
Not only is this cheap class-warfare nonsense, it’s also flat-out false — unless Obama has proposed at some point treating capital gains differently than income. He has talked at times of raising the cap-gains rate from 15% to 20%, but that will still put cap-gains at “a lower rate than average Americans who are struggling to get by.” Obama’s so-called “millionaire’s tax” surcharge wouldn’t have applied to Romney either, because that was a surcharge on income, not capital gains. If Obama wanted to have that debate with Romney, he’d shortly be exposed as either a hypocrite or an idiot.
Romney paid the exact same rate as anyone else on capital gains. Had an average household made money on capital gains — and some might on smaller investments in portfolios — they would pay the exact same rate on cap-gains as Romney did. We treat capital gains differently because (a) that money got taxed elsewhere at an income rate in most cases, and (b) we want to provide an incentive for risk. Capital investment is a significant risk, much more so than income derived from sitting on capital and deriving interest. We want people to put their capital to work instead of sitting on it. That’s what Romney did, and he’s paying the tax rate on the reward for taking risk.
That’s really the only thing of interest in Romney’s tax returns, and it’s entirely unsurprising that this White House went out of its way to get it wrong.
Update: Allahpundit e-mails me this tidbit that will get some attention:
Mitt Romney had a Swiss bank account. You’re welcome, Democratic National Committee.
The Republican presidential contender, who released his tax forms Tuesday morning under pressure from his fellow candidates and the media, avoided some of the embarrassing pitfalls that can come with opening one’s financial portfolio for public inspection. But in doing so, Romney handed Democratic opposition researchers a trove of new data that will surely show up in attack ads this fall, if he’s lucky enough to be the GOP nominee.
He had accounts in the Caymans and Bermuda, too, but there’s one problem with the attack in this case — or actually, more than one:
And the way Romney keeps his money will help paint that picture. Romney’s tax forms show he had a bank account in Switzerland, which he closed in 2010, and accounts in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. All three have reputations as offshore havens where the extremely wealthy keep their cash, sometimes to avoid paying taxes (Romney actually did pay taxes on those accounts, but that minor detail may be left out of any attack ads).
Still, it could have been worse. Romney donated nearly $3 million to charitable causes in 2010 and more than $4 million in 2011, including at least $4.1 million to the Mormon Church. That’s better than some politicians, whose tax forms show they didn’t bother to give money to those less fortunate than themselves (Think Vice President Joe Biden, who gave an average of just $369 a year to charity, according to ten years of tax returns the Obama campaign made public in September 2008).
Yeah, Romney didn’t shelter the money at all; he paid the taxes due. And if the White House wants to get into attacks over stingy rich men, they’re going to find themselves outgunned.