Why Obama's tax attack on Romney will backfire

The Obama campaign is blasting the Republican's tax-reform proposal, even though the president's own advisors have long backed the very same policy.

By TheWeek.com Jul 17, 2012 5:05PM

Obviously, the Obama campaign believes it has hit on a winning attack in the campaign to defeat Mitt Romney and win a second term, even if the Obama team can't quite define the assault properly. For the last two weeks, Team Obama has hit Romney over "outsourcing," when they really mean off-shoring — the process of sending jobs overseas to reduce costs. Then there's the fight over when Romney's tenure at Bain Capital ended, something that just became an issue in and of itself in the last few days. This supposedly matters because of the date when Bain started investing in companies that off-shored significant numbers of jobs. Those decisions appear to have taken place after Romney ended his management of Bain investments, but the president's advisers need to tie him to those decisions in order to make Romney less palatable to the working-class Rust Belt voters that polls show are abandoning the president.

But set aside the semantics. The big question on Bain is whether anyone really cares about private-sector investment decisions from 1999 to 2002. So far, despite weeks of attacks on Romney in ads and in media appearances, there is no evidence that voters will pay attention. While Obama hammers Romney with negative ads, the polling in the presidential race has been remarkably stable. The Real Clear Politics average of major national pollsters shows that the margin between Obama and Romney has not grown larger than three points since the beginning of May — and that Obama has yet to rise above a 47.5 percent support level.

A new poll on the subject of ethics and business gives even less reason to believe that this strategy will pay dividends. Rasmussen surveyed 1,000 likely voters last Friday and Saturday on whether Mitt Romney's business record gives voters a reason to vote for or against him. While 74 percent of respondents had followed the debate over Romney's business dealings somewhat or very closely, the result was a split at 41 percent for voting for or against. Independents narrowly tilted toward support, 40-37, but that is still in the margin of error. Middle-age and senior voters broke more strongly positive, however, 48-39 and 57-31, respectively — which may mean that Team Obama is reinforcing a strong Romney point among the voters most likely to turn out in this election.

On the question of ethics, the news turns even worse for Obama. Slightly more voters see Romney as more ethical than the norm among politicians (27 percent) than there are voters who see him as worse than the norm (25 percent), with 40 percent seeing no real difference. The numbers for Obama go the other direction. Thirty-six percent believe Obama to have worse ethics than the norm, while 32 percent believe Obama to be an improvement, while only 28 percent see him as the norm. That's a damning indictment for the man who won in 2008 on the platform of hope and change.

Under these conditions, the Obama campaign should be looking for a better line of attack on off-shoring — and they launched it late last week. Instead of hearkening back to 1999, Team Obama highlighted a Romney tax-reform proposal that would apply the kind of territorial approach used by most other Western nations. This allows corporations to return foreign profit back to the U.S. without a tax penalty, which Obama and the campaign plan to argue will further benefit companies that off-shore jobs, and that Romney will create jobs in China before the U.S.

This attack at least has the virtue of substance. It addresses a real policy issue in the present rather than private investments in the past. Unfortunately for Obama, it will also end up stepping all over his own claims to economic expertise.

During his tenure as president, Obama took a lot of criticism for his lack of private-sector business experience. To counter those attacks, he created two economic panels — the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, and the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (known as Simpson-Bowles). The president appointed business executives to the CJC specifically to demonstrate that his policies were based on the expertise of the private sector. 

What do they have to say about Romney's tax proposal? ABC's Jake Tapper reported that both of these two presidential advisory boards recommended exactly what Romney proposed. So did a third economic panel, the Export Council. Boeing CEO Jim McInerny wrote for the private-sector members of the Export Council in December 2010, urging Obama to adopt a "competitive territorial tax system for the United States" that ""should broadly follow the practice of our trading partners and should not be designed to raise new revenue." In the same month, the Simpson-Bowles commission wrote that the current U.S. tax system put American businesses at a disadvantage abroad, thanks to the foreign-tax issue.

And what about President Obama's own Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, formed to enhance common perception about Obama's economic policies? The panel not only supports the territorial tax plan proposed by Romney, it made the same argument at the end of last year that the lack of such reform kept badly-needed capital overseas — capital that could fuel job creation in the U.S., and protect American firms from foreign takeovers:

"[The territorial-tax reform] would eliminate the so-called lock-out effect in the current worldwide system of taxation that discourages repatriation and investment of the foreign earnings of U.S. companies in the United States. The current worldwide system makes investing these earnings in the United States more expensive from a tax point of view than reinvesting them abroad where they are not subject to additional corporate tax. These members believe that a territorial system would enhance the ability of U.S. companies to acquire foreign companies and would eliminate tax incentives of U.S. multinationals to merge with or sell their foreign operations to foreign companies. This would also reduce the vulnerability of domestic firms to takeover bids by foreign firms operating with lower tax rates. According to this view, a lower corporate tax rate and the adoption of a territorial system would increase the competitiveness of U.S. companies relative to their foreign counterparts in the United States and elsewhere, adding to the U.S. jobs that are needed to grow and support global growth."

Instead of making the case that Romney will increase off-shoring, Obama's refusal to adopt the territorial tax system that Obama's own advisers have repeatedly proposed makes the case that Obama can't grasp the problem at all. Furthermore, if Obama attacks Romney as an "outsourcer" and extremist in economics on this basis, the existence of these proposals within his own administration will deepen the impression that Obama's ethics make him just another politician willing to say anything to get re-elected, and incompetent on economics to boot. For a candidate whose main campaign promise was to change that very impulse in Washington, and whose economy has gone into serious retreat, that will all but eliminate any argument Obama has for a second term.

More from The Week

Jul 18, 2012 10:58AM
Obama's campaign managers Axelrod, Cutter and Labolt have attempted to destroy Romney with their negative campaigning and outrageous comments about his  tenure at Bain,  and past  tax filings. I believe  Obama's team to  "Destroy  Romney at all costs " has been so small and petty  it   has brought shame and disgrace to the office of the President of the United States. Team  Obama  Chicago style politics is not what voters want to see every day . Our country deserves much better IMHO
Jul 18, 2012 1:04PM

It seems pretty weak that the best Obama could come up with was Romney may or may not have off shored jobs ten years ago.


Romney on the other hand is asking where the trillions of dollars went that Obama spent in the last few years. I am sure most Americans are pretty sure Obama took good care of the people who got him elected last time. Most American have not seen any benefit from all of those wasted dollars.


Looks like Obama is going down. Our economy is still in the toilet and people are still looking for work and he is the man in charge. Obama chose to expand government rather than make spending cuts and it just didn't work.  The business environment for creating jobs is still poor. So far I haven't heard of a plan B from the Obama camp that would make me support him this time around.

Jul 19, 2012 5:36AM
Mitt will release more tax returns when Eric Holder releases more "Fast and Furious" documents-------deal?
Jul 17, 2012 7:38PM
The fact that Romney pays a lower percentage of his income than most middle income taxpayers says more about our f***d up tax laws than it does about Romney.  Why shouldn't he take advantage of loopholes given to him by special interest lobbyists?  

It's time for real tax reform - NOW!
Jul 17, 2012 8:46PM
Several commenter's mention the fact that Romney pays a lower percentage in taxes, yet he pays more taxes in a year than probably over 80% of Americans pay in a lifetime. And they try to make a case that that is not fair!
Jul 18, 2012 2:42PM

1. who cares if he has money overseas...if it is there legally...oh well. their is NOT one person in the US who would NOT do the same thing if they were able to do it. I don't think even the most ardent supporter of Obama thinks that Romney's taxes have anything Illegal in them...

2. Some of Mitts taxes are still at his accountants and attorneys offices becaue he filed an extenstion for this past year...and it was granted by the Obama IRS....

3. Who cares if he outsourced or not.... he did what he was suppose to do as a head of a company. Make money for the shareholders....Bain capitol is NOT a Not for Profit entity.....It looks like to me he was succssful at makeing money. and was ethical about it. Who on this comment section hasn't bought anything at HOME DEPOT? most of us had....we have all been served by Bain capitol's investment strategies in the past. Cheaper prices for better products.

Jul 19, 2012 5:43AM
Here's another deal. The 1-2% will pay more taxes when the 49% who pay no federal income tax pay something. It's called "fair share"!--------What's behind door #3?
Jul 18, 2012 4:43PM
I care or are  more concerned about the warning from the Fed Chairman that we could see another economic recession next year if the congress doesn't act and do something instead of business as usual which is just petty Chicago  politics since Obama became our President and Commander in Chief
Jul 17, 2012 7:25PM
@Someone - The Johnny Cash reference gets funnier everytime you post it - not.  Perhaps we can get you to read the article and respond as to why Obama's own advisors are recommending the same approach that Romney is proposing?  I mean an intelligent, thought provoking response, not the kool-aid drinking, infantile, nanny, nanny, boo-boo stuff.
Jul 19, 2012 4:34PM
I for one would like to see an ad from Obama clearly stating what he has accomplished, and how the country has benefited under his watch. 30 seconds of dead air wouldnt be much of an ad though.
Jul 19, 2012 6:44PM

Obama suggesting that Romney is being secretive is the funniest thing I have heard in a long time.


Jul 20, 2012 7:11PM
An UNSIGNED article? Who the hell wrote this drivel? They didn't even have the chutzpa to put their name on it. I wouldn't either - it's total fantasy crap.
Jul 20, 2012 9:54AM
Out-sourcing = legal but hurts our economy & job opportunities in the US
Off-shoring = legal but hurts our economy & job wages in the US
Tax havens in off-shore accounts = hiding money to avoid paying taxes and hurts our economy.

What's so difficult to understand about this?

Jul 17, 2012 5:14PM

The Governors new campaign song.. 

I Fell Into A Burning Ring Of Fire
I Went Down, Down, Down
And The Flames Went Higher

And It Burns, Burns, Burns
The Ring Of Fire
The Ring Of Fire

Jul 17, 2012 7:51PM
Jul 19, 2012 9:51AM

Can't believe so many can't see the forrest thru the trees.  Our tax system is so complicated and more adventageous to the "Romney's" and major corporations than it is for everyday people.  That is why the Romney's can pay 13.9% on millions of $$'s and why corporations like Exxon, GE and others have paid not one cent, not a penny in taxes to their own country for the last few years.  The president is only trying to "tip the scales "a little" to help common everyday Americans." The President has always said "work hard" , he is not against making money, but rather "how much money you make on the backs of everyday Americans."  That is what he is fighting. My gosh how much money does someone need? What is wrong with a more fair and balanced system? 


Come on, the Bain's of this country put people out of work, affecting whole communites, whole communites not just one individual.  They raise the unemployment numbers, hurting the overall economics of OUR country and then they blame the President for "their actions".   Why, because they want more, and more means less regulations and less taxes on "them".  Read Romney's tax plan that so favors "investment income" , dividends, capitals gains and interest and gives the highest % of decrease to the top 2 tax brackets but takes away deductions for those with children or those are trying tp pay for their children's education. It also gets rid of the Federal Estate Tax.  Most people invest in their 401k's and pay regular income tax, when they take it out.....not capital gains.  If you are in the 10-15% tax rate you pay 0% on long term dividends or interest now.  And how many do you know that pay a Federal Estate Tax which is over $5 million or invest their hard earned money outside of a 401K?  Not many!


In 2008 I took a serious look at Romney, but he has done a 360 on everything he said then. He truly has flipped flop on everything.  How do you trust that? And the damage to this country was done before Obama even took office. And, the GOP has blocked everything the President  has tried to do to fix the problems. The GOP has had control for the last 3 years. They will put nothing, nothing in place unless it helps the wealthy.


Reagan raised taxes what 7 times? Clinton put Nafta in before he left office.  That is what started American jobs going out of this country.  Bush and Mr. Cheney started 2 wars, lowered taxes and put in the prescription plan for Medicare and they paid for none of it.  NONE of it. And the financial meltdown happened on the Bush/Cheney watch.  And now we are going to blame one Man who really cares and is trying his damndest to fix things against the total blockade of the GOP?


I could go on and on, but my gosh....you either see it or you don't.  Me I am voting for a "more fair and balanced system" and that won't be Romney.

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