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Top Democrat takes Romney tax accusation to Senate floor

By Paul West, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON — Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid took his jihad over Mitt Romney’s personal finances to the floor of the U.S. Senate on Thursday, repeating his unsubstantiated claim that the wealthy Republican paid no federal income taxes for 10 years.

Questions about Romney’s taxes clearly have the potential to hurt the GOP presidential candidate, with polls indicating that voters would like to see more expansive disclosure.

Romney seems determined to tough out the issue, though. He has refused to release income tax returns from before 2010, and he recently dodged a question about whether the effective rate on his taxes had ever been below the 13.9 percent rate he paid in 2010.

“I haven’t calculated that,” Romney told ABC News. “I’m happy to go back and look, but my view is I’ve paid all the taxes required by law.” Since then, his campaign has declined to answer any more questions on the topic.

Reid’s allegations, which he has refused to substantiate, are taking the issue to a new level.

The Democrat, in remarks to the Senate Thursday morning, said that “the word’s out that he (Romney) hasn’t paid any taxes for 10 years.”

Of course, that “word” has come from none other than Reid himself. Since last month, when he alleged in a Senate floor speech that Romney “basically paid no taxes in the prior twelve years,” the Nevada Democrat has continued to hammer away at the topic.

Reid has said he learned about Romney’s taxes earlier this summer from an investor in Bain Capital who, he said, called his office to pass along the information. The senator has refused to identify the investor and has acknowledged that he can’t be certain about the veracity of the charges he has been spreading.

In a conference call with Nevada reporters on Wednesday, he broadened what he said were his sources for the contention that Romney was able to avoid federal taxes.

“I have had a number of people tell me that,” said Reid, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal , while refusing to elaborate.

“I don’t think the burden should be on me,” Reid told home-state reporters. “The burden should be on him. He’s the one I’ve alleged has not paid any taxes. Why didn’t he release his tax returns?”

On Thursday morning, Reid said that a nominee for a Cabinet position couldn’t get confirmed by the Senate if he made as limited a release of tax information as Romney has thus far.

“Let him prove that he has paid taxes, because he hasn’t,” Reid declared, then adding, for good measure that “Mitt Romney makes more money in a single day than the average middle-class family makes in two years or more.”

Romney campaign spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom, in a Fox News appearance shortly after Reid’s latest volley, called the senator’s charges “baseless, and they are untrue.”

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