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THOMAS: Tax, charity talk beside real issue of fed spending

Cal Thomas

Cal Thomas

To call Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid a "mad dog," as Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank did, is an affront to the canine community and those suffering from legitimate mental illness. Reid was completely sane when he spread hearsay about an anonymous Bain Capital investor who allegedly told him Mitt Romney paid no taxes for 10 years.

Doesn't Reid, a Mormon like Romney, subscribe to the prohibition in the Ninth Commandment: "Thou shall not bear false witness?" He appears to pay no political price because he's a Democrat and unlike Joe McCarthy, to whom some are comparing him, no prominent fellow Democrat or top media figure has asked Reid the question put to the commie-hunting McCarthy by attorney Joseph Welch in 1953: "Have you no sense of decency, sir?"

Reid is a sideshow, a clown in a political circus that seeks to draw the public's attention away from President Obama's record. Romney's tax returns won't create a single job or revive the economy. Romney must change the subject by shifting the focus to where it belongs: to President Obama, his failed promises and his disastrous economic mismanagement.

If he wants to belabor the point, Romney can challenge Obama to release his college records and other information mentioned in his book "Dreams from My Father." He can offer to release more years of his tax returns in return for the transparency Obama promised.

Or Romney can reiterate that he has fully complied with the law, including the payment of all taxes owed. Would his critics prefer he pay more than his legal obligation? In addition, Romney has certainly made sizable charitable contributions, while Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, according to USA Today, averaged just $369 in annual charitable contributions over a 10-year period.

What about the president? Here's what Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler wrote: "When then-presidential candidate Obama released his tax returns during the 2008 campaign, it was revealed that he began making significant gifts to charity after he started making serious money from his books -- and after he decided to run for president.

Here's what the numbers look like: 2005: $77,315 to charity out of income of $1.66 million (4.6 percent); 2004: "$2,500 out of $207,647 (1.2 percent); 2003: $3,400 out of $238,327 (1.4 percent); 2002: $1,050 out of $259,394 (0.4 percent)." In 2010, the number increased to 13.6 percent.

We can go tit for tat on contributions or income taxes forever. The tax returns issue is a smoke screen for the Obama administration's failures. The Romney campaign now appears to be doing what it should to reclaim and redirect the narrative. Romney can prevail if the issue becomes government spending.

People know that waste is a moral failure. Romney could go after Pentagon waste. Washington Post columnist Walter Pincus recently wrote: "How can the Pentagon keep $2.5 billion left over from a canceled program sloshing around for 'reinvestment by the Army' when Capitol Hill and the White House are worried about Pentagon budget cuts and national security?"

Romney has begun to press the president on his "reform" of welfare reform. The Department of Health and Human Services announced last month it will consider waivers to the work requirements for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Requiring welfare recipients to work was a hard-won provision of the landmark welfare reform law passed by a Republican Congress and signed by Bill Clinton in 1996. And it worked. Those receiving welfare benefits, instead of relying on government assistance, were compelled to transition themselves toward work or educational opportunities as a way of creating a better life for themselves and for their families.

Sen. Reid is a stink bomb at the garden party. Let "Dirty Harry," as some have dubbed him, continue to demonstrate his flawed character. Romney should not descend to the gutter with him. He should ignore Reid and focus on what most Americans care most about: rebuilding our shattered economy.

Email nationally syndicated columnist Cal Thomas at tmseditors@tribune.com. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/calthomas.