RANDOLPH — Senator Scott Brown delivered a confrontational speech Tuesday that accused Elizabeth Warren of seeking to impose “the largest tax hike since World War II,” prompting Warren to argue that Brown is defending tax breaks for oil companies and the wealthy.
Brown’s remarks, delivered to the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, were billed as a major policy speech but did not include any new policy pronouncements.
The centerpiece of his address was his charge that Warren, his Democratic challenger, wants to increase taxes by $3.4 trillion over the next decade.
“To her, there’s no bad time to raise a tax,” Brown told the audience of 500 business owners, lobbyists, and politicians.
Warren dismissed the $3.4 trillion figure as “a made-up number,” but defended her proposed tax increases. She said the revenue will help pay down the deficit and rebuild crumbling roads and bridges.
“I believe that the wealthiest individuals and the biggest corporations can afford to pay their fair share,” Warren said while visiting a construction site in Quincy. “All that we’re asking is that they pay what they paid during the Clinton years, which were pretty darn good years.”
Warren wants to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire for those who earn more than $250,000 a year, repeal subsidies for oil companies, and raise the estate tax, among other changes. Those changes alone would amount about to about $1 trillion in new taxes over the next decade.
Brown reached the higher $3.4 trillion figure by tallying some tax proposals that Warren has appeared to advocate in the past but now says she does not.
For example, Warren said in November 2011 that increasing Social Security taxes would stabilize the program. Brown’s campaign said such an increase would add another $1 trillion over the next decade. Warren’s campaign now argues she was merely offering a hypothetical proposal and does not back higher Social Security taxes.
On Tuesday, Warren said she believed modest adjustments would preserve the Social Security system for the future, but, when pressed, she would not detail what those adjustments might entail.
“There are a lot of technical ways to do this,” she said. “That’s what the actuarial folks do.”
She pointed out that the program has enough money to pay for benefits for the next 20 years.
Warren’s campaign declined to provide its own tally for her tax hikes and accused Brown of relying on flawed calculations to reach the $3.4 trillion figure.
In his speech, Brown mocked Warren for declining to voluntarily pay a higher tax rate, even though she is in favor of raising taxes on others, calling it “one box she declined to check.”
The comment drew chuckles from those in the audience who knew it was a reference to the controversy over Warren’s undocumented claims to Cherokee heritage. Critics have said she “checked boxes” on professional documents to indicate she was a Native American and advance her academic career.
Brown also criticized her for seeking to end the Bush tax cuts for upper-income earners.
“Let me give you a little straight talk: When tax rates go up, that’s a tax hike any way you slice it,” Brown said. “And that’s exactly what Professor Warren wants.”
He warned of “Taxmageddon” on Jan. 1, when the Bush tax rates and other tax cuts expire unless Congress acts.
“Is it a special session of Congress that we need to do this summer? So be it,” he said. “Is it we need to get to business right away when we get back off break? Then so be it. Do we need to battle through the lame duck session and get it done and work together? Then so be it.”
After his speech, Brown did not take questions from the chamber audience or the press, walking out the back door with a cellphone to his ear as he was chased by reporters. He promised to answer questions Wednesday, when he accepts the endorsement of the US Chamber of Commerce.
Democrats criticized Brown for eluding the press, and Warren made a point of holding two extended question-and-
answer sessions with reporters.
“He’s out and visible without having to talk about the issues or take any questions, because when he talks about the issues, he’s got a real problem,” Warren said. “And when he starts to take questions, he’s got a bigger problem.”
Warren said that by attacking her on taxes, Brown is trying to shift the focus away from the budget proposed by Mitt Romney’s new running mate, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Brown voted twice to block the budget in the Senate, but Warren said his support for the Romney-Ryan ticket would effectively elevate Ryan’s economic philosophy to the White House.
“Scott Brown is very worried about this race, and the reason I think he’s worried is that when Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan as his running mate, the economic issues clicked into place with perfect clarity,” she said.
“And that is, protect those at the top: give them every loophole, give them every break, and make everyone under them pay for it.”
Noah Bierman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Michael Levenson
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