Jim Lo Scalzo / European Pressphoto Agency (m81i2rpd20120806214713/600 )
By some measures, it might appear Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) really stepped in it when he claimed he had a source who invested in Bain Capital who told him that Mitt Romney hadn’t paid taxes in 10 years.
Not only would Reid not name his source, but experts told a couple of news outlets it was almost impossible that the Republican presidential candidate had paid no taxes.
Salon.com talked to tax attorneys and found the claim that Romney paid zero over a decade “nothing short of ludicrous.”
Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a fellow member of the U.S. Senate, took the Reid’s credibility more deeply into question. “I think he is making things up,” the Romney backer said, adding, “I think he is lying.” Politifact.com set its Truth-o-Meter finding on the question of Reid’s remark at “pants on fire.” The website, operated by the Tampa Bay Times, said: “Reid has made an extreme claim with nothing solid to back it up.”
The sharpest rebuttal to Reid’s Romney tax-dodger claim came from Reince Priebus, Republican National Committee chairman. He called the Nevada senator a “dirty liar” over the weekend on ABC and then repeated the wording Monday on Fox News.
Those are typically fighting — or at least “out of order” — words, even by the relatively low standards of Washington political discourse. In the 1990s, House Minority Leader Robert Michel (R-Illinois) issued a report noting which slights had been ruled in and out of order. Receiving approval were “half-baked nitwits” and “asinine.” But “Nazi,” “pinko” and “dirty liar” had been ruled beyond the pale and out of order. (Rep. Joe Wilson, a South Carolina Republican, was rebuked for shouting “You lie!” at President Obama during his 2009 State of the Union address)
While he can’t necessarily prove it, Priebus has good reason for strong suspicion about Reid juicing his information about Romney’s taxes. The presumed Republican nominee might have paid little, or nothing, for a year or two — something that some voters would doubtless find troubling. But to pay nothing for a whole decade? That would be a stretch, even in the world of high-flying venture capitalists.
While Reid’s tax claim strained credulity, it did not seem to strain the Nevada senator. Accustomed to pitched partisan battles, he showed little inclination to back down. One of the journalists who follows Reid most closely, columnist Jon Ralston, told the Washington Post that the old pol was “fearless and shameless.” Ralston noted that Reid would not stand for election for four years and added: “The most dangerous man is one who does not care.”
Ralston predicted Reid would be happy to continue to catch flak for Team Obama, though he might be slightly chastened to find even neutral or liberal-leaning media outlets questioning his truthfulness.
Still, Reid’s gambit had the desired effect: Romney’s forces spent another day talking about tax policy and the candidate’s own taxes, much safer terrain for the president that the issue of job creation, which remains lackluster more than three years after the start of the economic crisis.
Polls have shown that while Americans have less than full confidence in Obama’s ability to heal the economy, they prefer his plan to raise taxes on the wealthy, those making over $250,000 a year, over Romney’s plan to extend the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for all Americans.
With Reid stirring the fairness pot and raising the issue of Romney’s tax returns, Obama had been a wing man for the tax fight. At a fundraiser in Connecticut, the Democrat said the Republican’s tax plan makes him like “Robin Hood in reverse” — taking from the poor and giving take breaks to the wealthy. As long as he was not talking about sagging jobs figures, three months before election day, it was a good day for the president.