Obama Aide Plouffe Presses Romney on Tax Returns (Transcript)

Senior White House adviser David Plouffe said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing this weekend that Republican candidate Mitt Romney should release decades of tax returns, calling it an issue of “transparency and trust” for voters.

(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)

JULIANA GOLDMAN, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Welcome. I’m Julianna Goldman, in for Al Hunt this week, and we begin the show with senior White House adviser David Plouffe. David, thank you for joining us here in the studio.

DAVID PLOUFFE: Thanks for having me.

GOLDMAN: So tax day is just around the corner. The president and the vice president, they’ve released their 2011 tax returns, and you want Mitt Romney to release 23 years of his tax returns, which is far more than what the president himself has released. We already know that his effective tax rate is lower than what most Americans are paying, so what do you think he’s hiding?

PLOUFFE: Well, I think it’s important now -- when the president ran, when President Bush ran -- it’s standard to release many years of tax returns. We’ve released, I think, back to 2000 now. So that’s 12 years. We know that Governor Romney gave the McCain campaign, when he was considered as a vice presidential candidate, 23 years. So they’re just sitting somewhere in a box or a vault or something, and they ought to release it, because obviously he’s released, you know, a year when he was preparing to run for office. We ought to take a look at the whole picture.

And why this is important is, the American people want more fairness in the tax code, they want to make sure that, to grow the economy and reduce the deficit, we have a balanced approach. The president’s committed to making sure that people who are making, you know, $20 million, $50 million, $100 million, aren’t paying less effective tax rate than the middle class.

You can trust this president to fight for a fairer tax system. And the question is, is anything going to change if Governor Romney is elected president? And I think the answer is unqualifiedly no.

GOLDMAN: But his advisers have indicated they are not going to release those returns, and even if he were to release those - - his tax returns -- he’s bound by a confidentiality agreement with Bain that legally prevents him from disclosing some of the underlying assets that the campaign has raised questions about. So no matter what, it’s still going to be a pretty opaque picture. So what is it that you want him to disclose here?

PLOUFFE: I think that there’s a tradition. It’s transparency and trust. If he’s got nothing to hide, then there’s nothing to lose.

GOLDMAN: So you’re implying he has something to hide?

PLOUFFE: No, I don’t know why, since they’re prepared -- they gave them to the McCain campaign. I think it’s a simple question of they’re sitting there, they’ve all prepared. You know, I’m sure a lot of accountants spent a lot of time on these tax returns. Just release them.

And what’s important is, listen, the American people want to have trust in their leaders. These debates we’re having about tax policy, about, you know, what, who can you really trust to have the kind of tax and fiscal policy that’s going to help the middle class and help our economy grow? These are important questions.

So presidential candidates, nominees, and people elected president have traditionally released a lot of tax returns. You know, Governor Romney’s own father in Michigan set a standard of releasing tax returns. This would be the right thing to do, and, you know, we’ve released them, I think, back to 2000, so that’s 12 years. And, you know, I think when you’re running for president, everything ought to be an open book.

GOLDMAN: All right. Well, another tax issue is the Buffett rule. It is expected to fail in the Senate, and, you know, there have been signs recently of a slowing job market, and the president himself said that the Buffett rule, quote, “is not all we have to do to close the deficit.” So instead of pushing this in Congress, why not press for legislation that would create jobs, that would help consumers who have been hit by gas prices, or that would tackle the deficit like Simpson-Bowles?

PLOUFFE: Well, this is an important principle. We’re simply never going to make the progress we need to, to reduce the deficit and to do the kind of things like investing in education and research in the short term without a principle of fairness.

You know, the stumbling block to solving this last year was too many Republicans here in Washington were unwilling to ask the wealthy to do anything at all. And so there’s a big difference here. And so this is an important principle. Whether it’s later this year, next year, at some point, the country’s going to have to muscle up here and solve our long-term fiscal challenges and do the smart things to help grow the economy. You’re not going to do that unless you’re willing to ask the very wealthy to do a little bit more in revenue.

Now, the president’s very focused on jobs in the short term. We just signed a bill called the Jobs Act to help entrepreneurs. We’re pushing to make sure that we pass the transportation bill to rebuild our roads and bridges. We - housing refinancing legislation would make an enormous difference for people. These are all things the Congress can and should do right now.

GOLDMAN: But critics are saying that it’s a political charade, right, because Buffett - the Buffett rule is going to go anywhere.

PLOUFFE: That’s what they said about the payroll tax, too, last year. Most Republicans lined up against it. We got that done.

The point is, if we’re going to eventually - this may not pass next week. Everyone’s going to be on record. And those that vote against it are saying it’s OK for a nurse or a firefighter or secretary to pay less tax - effective tax rate than people making $10 million, $50 million, $100 million a year.

So this is a big principle. And to close the deficit in the long term, this president’s already cut -- signed into law almost $2 trillion in spending, Julianna. So to do the rest, you’re going to have to do some savings from entitlement reform done in a safe way, not the Ryan-Romney way, but the right way, and then you’re also going to have to get some revenue through closing loopholes. All we’re talking about here is ending some of the special tax treatments for the very wealthy.

GOLDMAN: Well, you are also making the case that Governor Romney would only be looking out for the wealthy, he would not be looking out for the middle class, but economists have said that under the president’s recovery, the richest 1 percent of Americans have actually seen their incomes rise, when middle- class American incomes have fallen. So doesn’t Governor Romney have a point that the middle class haven’t done better under this president?

PLOUFFE: Listen, we went through the worst recession this country’s ever had, except for the Great Depression. And there were reasons for it. There were policies in place. So those are the same policies that Romney wants to bring back and that the Republican Congress wants to bring back.

So the middle class has been through a lot here. This is a president - whether it’s our tax policy, investments in things like education, investments in things like student loans, trying to rebuild this country so that our construction industry gets back to work, this president -that’s how he views the economy.

The president views the economy through the lens of middle- class families, people that are trying to get into the middle class. And that’s going to be the central challenge, not just - not of this election. This is the central challenge facing the country, because eventually we’re going to recover fully from the recession, but are we going to have the economy that works for the middle class?

GOLDMAN: Well, I want to turn to fundraising and super PACs, because that’s another big challenge for you guys. You have been raising money for Priorities USA, the president’s super PAC, and now you have Republican-leaning outside groups that are spending millions of dollars on ads attacking this president. And they are going unanswered by Priorities, because they don’t have the money to run a campaign countering that. How do you turn this around?

PLOUFFE: Well, you know, legally, obviously, we can’t be involved with Priorities’ strategic decisions. But, listen, this is -

GOLDMAN: But this is still an important opportunity to be able to define Governor Romney as the campaign shifts into this new phase.

PLOUFFE: Well, listen, we’ve built a campaign - we need to be able to win this campaign, you know, with our volunteers, with the resources we raise. Obviously, there’s going to be a lot of money spent against us on the outside. This is no way for our democracy to work.

You’ve got a few dozen people who are going to write $5 million, $10 million, $15 million, $50 million checks to try and purchase the White House on behalf of Governor Romney. That is a terrible, and that’s why we opposed the Citizens United decision. But --

GOLDMAN: But why has fundraising been such a challenge for the super PAC?

PLOUFFE: Well, listen, I think there’s a lot of folks who, on the other side, whether it’s folks in the oil industry, some people in the financial industry who say, you know, they’d like Romney in the White House because he’s going to take care of their bidding for them.

I think what you’ll see eventually, I assume you’re going to see more progressives understand the threat that this poses, which is, you know, we, at some point, even a presidential race, getting outspent three-, four-, five-to-one is not sustainable. We think we are going to built, first of all, our campaign is premised on volunteers out there, registering voters, knocking on doors. We also have to have money to communicate.

And we’re hopeful that, you know, the progressive community understand that we can’t allow this presidential election to be purchased by a few dozen folks who are looking to have policies that, you know, whether it’s the oil industry. I mean, most of the early ads have come from the oil industry. They’re opposed to what we’re trying to do. Now, we’re all of the above. Production’s up under this president. We also want to make sure we focus on alternative sources of energy. For whatever reason, you know, that’s being opposed by folks who think Romney is really going to have an energy strategy of the past, not of the future.

GOLDMAN: David Plouffe, thank you very much. That’s all we have time for.

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