Governor Deval Patrick on Sunday accused Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney of “turning his back on half the country” after video emerged last week of Romney criticizing people who do not pay federal income taxes as irresponsible.
But Patrick also said he would be open to a law requiring everyone to pay federal income taxes, a proposal advanced by some of the nation’s most ardent conservatives, including Michele Bachmann.
Patrick, a co-chairman of President Obama’s reelection campaign, blasted Romney’s remarks to wealthy donors at a $50,000-per-plate fund-raiser in May. The comments were taped surreptitiously and leaked to Mother Jones magazine, which posted them online.
“There are 47 percent who are with [Obama], who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it,” Romney said at the fund-raiser.
Romney’s 47-percent figure referred to the approximate share of US households that do not pay federal income taxes.
Discussing the video on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Patrick appeared personally offended by Romney’s comments.
“It’s just shocking to me that a candidate could aspire to be president by turning his back on half the country, and I think that’s what came through,” Patrick said.
“I can tell you — as someone who grew up on welfare, who spent some time on food stamps — my mother was just the kind of person ... who was aspiring to get to a better place, to get her GED, to get a job, to stand on her own two feet,’’ he continued. “And the notion that she or we or people like us would be belittled while we needed some help to be able to stand on our own two feet is exactly what I think Governor Romney is conveying.”
Yet Patrick did not dismiss the idea that everyone should pay at least a small federal income tax.
Such a requirement is popular among conservatives who argue a tax code that allows almost half the country to pay nothing in federal income taxes — though virtually every American adult pays some combination of Social Security, Medicare, excise, property, sales, and state or local income taxes—breeds a culture of entitlement.
While she was still in the presidential race, Bachmann, a representative of Minnesota, said everyone should be on the federal income tax roll, “even if it means paying the price of two Happy Meals a year, like $10. Everyone can afford to pay at least that.”
Romney has not proposed a minimum federal income tax but has said his secretly recorded remarks should be viewed broadly as a critique of Obama’s “government-centered society that provides more and more benefits,” which Romney contrasts with his own “free-enterprise society where people are able to pursue their dreams.”
Former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, the Democratic candidate in that state’s hotly contested Senate race, said during a debate on Thursday that he “would be open to a proposal that would have some minimum tax level for everyone.”
Asked on “Meet the Press” if he, too, would be open to a mandatory federal income tax, Patrick said “maybe. It’s the first I’m hearing about it.”
Host David Gregory, who moderated the Virginia Senate debate, pressed Patrick, asking if everyone should have “skin in the game.”
“Well that’s exactly where I was going,” Patrick replied.
Patrick was joined on “Meet the Press” by Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire, who suggested reactions to Romney’s comments about people who do not pay federal income taxes have been overblown.
“That certainly was a political analysis at a fund-raiser, but it’s not a governing philosophy,” said Ayotte, who was rumored to be a possible Romney running mate before the selection of Paul Ryan. “He absolutely has a vision for a hundred percent of America.”
“What I see is what the governor sees,” Ayotte added. “I see 15 million more people on food stamps that don’t want to be there. I see overall 47 million Americans on food stamps that want a good job; they don’t want to be on unemployment.”
But Romney’s statements in what he believed to be a private setting suggested he doubts whether Americans who receive government assistance are, in fact, motivated to improve their situations through hard work.
“I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives,” Romney told donors.Callum Borchers can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.