Mitt Romney Tax Returns Unlikely to Change Race

Mitt Romney's wealth unlikely to impact 2012 race.

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After receiving pressure from GOP rivals and Democrats alike, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney says he'll release some of his tax return information this spring ahead of the 2012 presidential election. In a press availability in Florence, S.C., on Tuesday, he confirmed what he (sort of) promised during a debate on Monday night.

"I have nothing in them that suggests there's any problem and I'm happy to do so," he said during the debate. "What's happened in history is people have released them in about April of the coming year, and that's probably what I would do."

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When asked on Tuesday what he pays in taxes, the GOP front-runner confirmed that most of his income comes from investments, allowing him to pay a lower tax rate than most working Americans.

"It's probably closer to the 15 percent rate than anything because my last 10 years my income comes overwhelmingly from investments made in the past rather than ordinary income or rather than earned annual income," he said, according to a CNN video. "I got a little bit of income from my book but I gave that all away and then I get speakers' fees from time to time but not very much."

Warren Buffett, one of the world's wealthiest people, made an issue of the 15 percent tax rate paid by most investors in a New York Times op-ed piece last August. He argued it is unfair for the super-rich who "make money with money" to pay a lower rate than those earning a regular wage.

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"What I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income--and that's actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office," he wrote. "Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent."

The capital gains tax was increased from 20 percent to 28 percent in the 1986 tax reform law signed by Republican President Ronald Reagan, but reduced under Democratic President Bill Clinton about 10 years later and then further cut by GOP President George W. Bush.

With much of the focus of the 2012 election on the economy and jobs, it's not surprising that Romney would like to keep the focus away from how much his net worth is and how much he pays in taxes, particularly if it's a lower percentage than those in the middle class.

But Danny Hayes, political science professor at American University, says even in the general election against President Barack Obama, how much Romney pays in taxes will not be a make-or-break issue.

"For [Romney], it's a little bit concerning because it provides the Obama campaign another piece of information they can point to as they can try to paint Mitt Romney as out-of-step with ordinary Americans," he says. "But I don't think in the long run that matters that much."

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Yes, putting a concrete figure on how wealthy you are is not really something candidates want to do before a financially struggling electorate, Hayes says, but Obama will make the same argument whether or not Romney releases his returns.

"The conversation Romney wants to have and will continue to have is not about whether he's rich or not, but whether he knows what it will take to get the economy back on track. I think that is probably a more salient argument for a lot of Americans," he says. "Whether Romney's like me is one thing and then whether he's going to be able to get the economy going again is another."

Another point likely to neutralize the impact of Romney's wealth? Obama is a millionaire too, Hayes adds.

Email: rmetzler@usnews.com

Twitter: @rebekahmetzler