Mitt Romney, in a pocketbook appeal to moderates, sought Sunday to reassure middle-class voters he would not raise their taxes and offer big breaks to millionaires, as Democrats charge, and vowed to restore some elements of the national health care law after he repeals it.
The Republican presidential nominee made the pledges in a two-part interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,’’ which was filmed Friday aboard Romney’s campaign bus and Saturday at his Boston headquarters.
The interview was his first on the program since 2009 and the latest indication of an apparent strategic shift toward using traditional media to get out his message. After skipping the Sunday talk show circuit for most of the campaign, instead appearing on conservative talk radio, Romney did a sit-down in Israel with CBS’s “Face the Nation” at the end of July and hosted “Fox News Sunday” anchor Chris Wallace at his vacation home in Wolfeboro, N.H., before last month’s Republican National Convention.
While Romney’s remarks about tax and health care reform were not new, they represented a departure — in a high-profile forum — from his usual talking points. Romney has more often deflected criticism of his tax plan by accusing Obama of “denigrating success and achievement” and rarely conceded anything good in “Obamacare,” which he decries as a “government takeover of health care.”
Romney’s responses to questions on both subjects appeared tailored less toward conservatives — whom Romney has largely won over, according to recent polls — than toward moderate voters.
“Contrary to what the Democrats are saying, I’m not going to increase the tax burden on middle-income families,” Romney said. “It would absolutely be wrong to do that.
Romney proposes a 20 percent across-the-board reduction of income tax rates but also aims to maintain current levels of tax revenue. He has not described in detail how he plans to accomplish both goals, except to say that he will broaden the tax base and close unidentified loopholes.
Without specifics, analysts at the independent Tax Policy Center filled in the blanks and last month produced a highly publicized study that concluded the loss of tax receipts would be so great, Romney would have to close a host of tax deductions enjoyed by middle-class Americans. Those taxpayers would suffer a net increase even as wealthy Americans watch their tax bills go down, the analysts said.
The study has become a favorite source for Democrats attacking Romney’s tax plan. Campaigning in Florida on Sunday, Obama said Romney’s plan is based on “bad math.”
Romney has said before that his plan would require high-income people to shoulder at least as much of the nation’s tax burden as they do now, and he has pledged to protect the mortgage interest tax deduction for middle- and low-income households.
In the interview with “Meet the Press,” Romney took a different approach.
He cited reports by Ivy League economists that suggest his tax plan could work, if he closes loopholes the Tax Policy Center deemed untouchable and succeeds in spurring economic growth. And Romney emphasized that the purpose of lowering income tax rates at the top of the scale is to benefit businesses that are taxed as individuals.
Two significant loophole closures that the Tax Policy Center discounted are tax exclusions for interest on municipal bonds and on life insurance, exclusions that primarily benefit wealthy Americans. Glenn Hubbard, an economic adviser to Romney, told the Wall Street Journal last month that the two deductions are “on the table.”
In remarks at a private fund-raiser in April that reporters overheard from the street, Romney floated another deduction he might eliminate, the one for mortgage interest on second homes.
Romney offered no additional specifics in the “Meet the Press” interview, but said, “I want to make sure people understand, despite what the Democrats said at their convention, I am not reducing taxes on high-income taxpayers.”
Romney tried to fend off another charge by Obama’s reelection campaign: that by repealing the 2010 health care law, Romney would leave young adults and people with preexisting health conditions without insurance. Under the law championed by Obama,insurance companies cannot deny coverage to people with preexisting conditions.
Romney emphasized that he will work not only to repeal the law but also to replace it with reforms of his own, which he said would include those popular provisions.
There is a key difference between Obama’s and Romney’s protections for people with preexisting conditions, however. Under the president’s health care law, insurers cannot deny coverage to anyone with a preexisting condition, beginning in 2014. Romney would extend the same protection only to people with preexisting conditions who have maintained continuous coverage.
Michael Czin, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, said Romney’s promises “should be seen for what they are: a cynical attempt to mislead the American people on the devastating impact his policies would actually have.”Callum Borchers can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.