Obama Says Tax Return Release ‘Standard’ in Pressing Romney

U.S. President Barack Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to members of the media in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on Monday. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg

President Barack Obama again pressed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to release more of his tax returns, saying voters have a right to know that everyone’s been “playing by the same rules.”

Obama’s campaign has emphasized the tax issue in some of its ads, including one that spotlighted a Swiss bank account Romney had with Zurich-based UBS AG that was closed in 2010.

The president today said “in no way” have he or his campaign suggested Romney did something illegal. Most voters, he said, would find Romney’s use of Swiss bank accounts significant.

“That may be perfectly legal, but, I suspect if you ask the average American: ’Do you have one and is that part of how you manage your tax obligations?’ they would say: ’No,” Obama said at an impromptu news conference at the White House. “They would find that relevant information.”

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, has refused to disclose more than two years of tax returns. He released his 2010 tax return, which shows he paid an effective federal tax rate of 13.9 percent on more than $21 million in income. He has said he will release his 2011 return when it is completed, while rejecting calls from Democrats and some Republicans that he release returns for additional years.

Romney, 65, said last week he has paid a federal tax rate of at least 13 percent over the past decade, and called the “fascination” with his taxes “small-minded.”

Campaign ‘Precedent’

“When it comes to releasing taxes that’s a precedent that was set decades ago, including by Governor Romney’s father,” Obama said. “I think people want to know that, you know, everybody’s been playing by the same rules, including people who are seeking the highest office in the land.”

“I don’t think we’re being mean” to Romney by asking him to reveal what other presidential candidates disclose, Obama said.

Presidential candidates have been inconsistent in the number of returns they have made public. Ronald Reagan made seven years available; George H.W. Bush released three years; and Romney’s father, George, made 12 years of returns public in his 1968 presidential bid.

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have released 12 years of returns. Senator John McCain of Arizona, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, disclosed only two.

Obama today also defended his political tactics against accusations by Romney that he’s been running “a campaign of division and anger and hate.”

Obama’s Focus

The president said he’s “focused on the issues and the difference that matter to working families,” while also accusing of Romney’s campaign of running false and unfair ads on his administration’s welfare initiative.

He distanced himself from an advertisement produced by an independent super-political action committee supporting him, Priorities USA, that suggests a link between Romney and the death of a woman whose husband years earlier had lost his health insurance when Bain Capital LLC, the private-equity firm Romney co-founded, closed the plant where the man worked.

Romney left Bain before the plant closed and the worker’s wife had kept her job and health insurance for a period of time after her husband lost his position.

“I don’t think that Governor Romney is somehow responsible for the death of the woman,” as suggested in the ad, Obama said. He added that he didn’t preview or approve the ad.

The Priorities USA commercial has run once.

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