Romney To Obama On Tax Deal: No, Thanks

After weeks of saying he would not release his tax returns, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney told reporters Thursday he had checked them and could report he had always paid at least 13 percent annual in federal income tax. But Romney still refuses to make public more of his tax returns, despite a new offer from the Obama campaign.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block. Mitt Romney's taxes are making news again. Yesterday, the Republican presidential hopeful offered a new tidbit of information, saying he paid at least 13 percent of his income in federal taxes, in each of the past 10 years. But Romney still refuses to make public more of his tax returns, despite a new offer from the Obama campaign.

Here's NPR's Scott Horsley.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: The offer came in a seemingly friendly letter from Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, to his counterpart on the Romney team - Matt Rhoades. "Dear Matt," Messina wrote as he introduced a proposed deal. "Show the American people five years' worth of Romney's tax returns, and we'll promise not to run ads, or give interviews, asking for more."

Obama campaign spokeswoman Jan Psaki repeated the offer, on CNN.

JAN PSAKI: Put your money where your mouth is. Let's prove what's in the tax returns and put every - all these questions to rest.

HORSLEY: The reply from Rhoades came quickly. "Hey, Jim, thanks for the note. See you in Denver" - the scene of the first presidential debate. But the answer on tax returns was no. Romney himself seemed surprised yesterday in South Carolina, when a reporter asked about his tax returns.

MITT ROMNEY: The fascination with taxes I paid, I find to be very small-minded compared to the broad issues that we face.

HORSLEY: Romney has released his 2010 return, and he's promised to make his 2011 return public as soon as it's finished. In 2010, Romney paid just under 14 percent of his income in federal taxes. He says that's consistent with what he paid over the last decade.

ROMNEY: I did go back and look at my taxes. And over the past 10 years, I never paid less than 13 percent.

HORSLEY: Romney gets a big tax break because most of his income comes from investments, which are taxed at a lower rate than ordinary income. Joe Rosenberg, of the Tax Policy Center, says Romney still pays more of his money in taxes than most working Americans.

JOSEPH ROSENBERG: A sort of typical middle-income household, they're probably paying a little bit less than 10 percent - in terms of just the federal individual income tax.

HORSLEY: But Rosenberg says Romney pays a lower rate than the typical family, if you consider payroll taxes; which are much less progressive than the income tax, and which can double - or triple - a middle-income family's tax burden.

ROSENBERG: Payroll taxes for your average low- to middle-income tax payer - wage earners - is going to be significantly larger than their income tax liability.

HORSLEY: Counting all federal taxes, the average family has a tax rate of around 15 percent. Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, released two years of his income tax returns, this evening. Ryan paid a higher tax rate than Romney did - just over 17 percent in 2010, and about 20 percent last year. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Ryan's tax rate in 2010 includes $3,224 that he paid in taxes for household help, as an employer. Excluding that, his tax rate on his own family income comes to 15.9 percent.]

Romney's tax bill looks even lighter in comparison to some of his fellow millionaires, who don't enjoy the same investment tax break. Highly paid athletes, entertainers, and others who make their money as ordinary income, pay an average federal tax of more than 24 percent.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest insists all this attention is more than curiosity about how the other 1 percent live. Earnest says it helps to inform a larger debate about tax policy.

JOSH EARNEST: Governor Romney has put forward a tax plan that would shower benefits on millionaires and billionaires; that would reduce their tax burden significantly. And in order to pay for it, it will require increasing the tax burden on middle-class families.

HORSLEY: President Obama's tax rate was 26 percent in 2010, and just over 20 percent last year. Under Mr. Obama's own tax proposals, both he and Romney would be paying more.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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Correction Aug. 17, 2012

This story states Paul Ryan paid an effective tax rate of slightly more than 17 percent in 2010. However, this includes $3,224 he paid in taxes for household help, as an employer. Excluding that, his tax rate on his own family income comes to 15.9 percent.

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