JONATHAN COHN JANUARY 16, 2012
Most politicians stretch the truth. But few do it as blatantly, and shamelessly, as Mitt Romney has been during this presidential campaign. Romney hasn't simply been fibbing or parsing his answers carefully. He has been saying things that are plainly untrue, over and over again.
It happened twice during Monday night’s debate in South Carolina. First Romney claimed that President Obama “doesn’t have a jobs plan yet.” He’s made statements like this before. But Obama does have a jobs plan. He unveiled it in early September, in a nationally televised address to a joint session of Congress. Obama even called it the “American Jobs Act.”
The proposal called for extensions of unemployment insurance and payroll tax breaks, spending on school renovation and other public works, as well as targeted tax breaks designed to increase employment. It received widespread praise from economists, who predicted that, if enacted, it would boost employment moderately.
Romney may not like the plan and, surely, he is entitled to make his best case against it. But that's a lot different from suggesting the plan doesn't exist.
Later Romney made a statement about trade, claiming that "this president has opened up no new markets for American goods around the world in his three years." Sorry, that's not true. In October, Obama signed a trio of trade agreements, one each with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. It was one of the few measures to pass this Congress with bipartisan support, so you’d think Romney might have remembered that. Here's how Bloomberg summarized the South Korea pact:
The South Korea deal, the biggest for the U.S. since the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, removes duties on almost two-thirds of American farm exports, and phases out tariffs on more than 95 percent of industrial and consumer exports within five years.
I'm no trade expert, but that sounds to me like opening new markets.
Still, the night’s most memorable Mitt-statement wasn't a lie. It was one of his evasions, about a topic that's become a real problem for the campaign: Romney's unwillingness, so far, to release his tax returns. It came up twice during the debate. He simply avoided answering the question the first time, when Rick Santorum raised it. But he couldn't dodge it the second time, when co-moderator Kelly Evans of the Wall Street Journal demanded an answer.
Here's how Mitt finally responded:
ROMNEY: You know, I looked at what has been done in campaigns in the past, with Senator McCain and President George W. Bush and others. They've tended to release records in April – tax season. I hadn't planned on releasing tax records because the law requires us to release all of our assets, all the things that we own, that I've already released. It's a pretty full disclosure. But you know, if that's been the tradition, I'm not opposed to doing that. Time will tell, but I anticipate that, most likely, I'm going to get asked to do that around the April time period. I'll keep that open.
EVANS: Governor, you will plan then to release your tax records in April?
ROMNEY: I think I've heard enough from folks, saying look, let's see your tax records. I have nothing in them that suggests there's any problem. I'm happy to do so. I sort of feel like we're showing a lot of exposure at this point. And if I become our nominee, and what's happened in history is people have released them in April of the coming year, and that's probably what I'd do.
For the record, the underlying issue here isn't what assets Romney has: Everybody knows he's very wealthy. The underlying issue is whether, because of tax loopholes available to the wealthy, Romney pays a lower effective tax rate than many middle class Americans. As Brian Beutler has pointed out, that's quite likely the case.
Update: Steve Benen points out that Romney has given interviews about the jobs plan and, although critical of the approach overall, has endorsed some of its provisions.