SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — President Barack Obama declared Tuesday night the occupant of the Oval Office must “work for everyone, not just for some,” jabbing back at Mitt Romney’s jarring statement that as a candidate, he doesn’t worry about the 47 percent of the country that pays no income taxes.
Romney neither disavowed nor apologized for his remarks, which included an observation that nearly half of the country believe they are victims and entitled to a range of government support. Instead, Romney cast his comment as evidence of a fundamental difference with Obama over the economy, adding the federal government should not “take from some to give to the others.”
As the rivals sparred with seven weeks remaining in a close race for the White House, two GOP Senate candidates publicly disavowed Romney’s remarks, caught on videotape at a fundraiser. Republican officials openly debated the impact that a series of controversies would have on the party’s prospects of winning the presidency.
Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, said the Republican presidential nominee was “obviously inarticulate” in trying to make his point. The Wisconsin congressman told KRNV-TV in Reno, Nev., “The point we’re trying to make here is, under the Obama economy, government dependency is up and economic stagnation is up.”
Top Republicans in Congress declined through aides to offer their reaction to Romney’s remarks — just as they generally refrained from commenting a week ago when he issued a statement that inaccurately accused the Obama administration of giving comfort to demonstrators after they breached the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.
While the Romney campaign has been promoting its fundraising prowess for months, it acknowledged that it had borrowed $20 million before the GOP national convention to boost its cash flow as it waited to begin tapping its general election funds. Under law, that money wouldn’t be available until Romney was officially nominated.
The Romney campaign confirmed Tuesday night that it took out the loan in August, using its general election accounts as collateral. The National Review Online first reported the loan.
The most recent controversy in a campaign filled with them was ignited by the emergence of a videotape, made last May, in which Romney told donors at a fundraiser that 47 percent of Americans pay no income taxes. They “believe the government has a responsibility to care for them … believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that’s an entitlement.”
He said, “I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
In a next-day interview on Fox, Romney said he didn’t intend to write off any part of a deeply divided electorate, including seniors who are among those who often pay no taxes. Instead, he repeatedly sought to reframe his remarks as a philosophical difference of opinion between himself and Obama.
“I’m not going to get” votes from Americans who believe government’s job is to redistribute wealth, he said, adding that was something Obama believes in.
He also said he wants to be president so he can help hard-pressed Americans find work and earn enough so they become income taxpayers.
Romney didn’t say so, but the U.S. income tax is designed to be progressive, so those who earn the most theoretically pay the most. Through programs as diverse as Social Security, Medicare, health care and food stamps, the government collects tax revenue and pays it out in the form of benefits for those who qualify.
Obama responded during an appearance on the David Letterman show.
“One thing I’ve learned as president is that you represent the entire country,” he said. As for Romney’s statement about the 47 percent, he said, “There are not a lot of people out there who think they are victims” or simply entitled.
At the same time, his campaign released a new ad saying that if Romney wins the White House, he might seek the elimination of a series of tax breaks used by millions of middle class Americans. “Mitt Romney, he’s so focused on big business and tax cuts for the wealthy, it seems like his answers to middle class America are just tough luck,” says a woman in the commercial.
Privately, some Republicans were harshly critical of Romney’s most recent comments and his overall campaign to date, saying he had frittered away opportunities. They also noted that with early voting already under way in some states, the time to recover was smaller than might appear.
Sen. Scott Brown, in a tough race for re-election in heavily Democratic Massachusetts, said of Romney’s comments: “That’s not the way I view the world.”
Still, with high-profile presidential debates and seven weeks of campaigning yet ahead, others said those concerns were overstated.
In recent days, Republicans have grumbled that Romney needed to sharpen his appeal to struggling middle class Americans by stating more clearly what he would do as president to help them. That effort began overnight with a new ad designed to appeal to female voters.
The new controversy blazed as opinion polls suggested that a narrow lead Obama gained nationally and in some key battleground states in the wake of the Democratic National Convention might be ebbing.
The sluggish economy and lingering high unemployment are by far the overriding issues of the election, and Romney’s case for the presidency is based on his claim that his success as a businessman has left him the skills needed to create jobs in a nation where unemployment is 8.1 percent.