Fact Check: Romney Ad Counters Obama's Tax Claims

By Steve Kanigher

Published 10/10 2012 08:47PM

Updated 10/11 2012 10:52AM

Claim: A new advertisement from Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and the Republican National Committee that is airing on KLAS-TV Channel 8 states: "Who will raise taxes on the middle class? According to an independent nonpartisan study, Barack Obama and the liberals will raise taxes on the middle class by $4,000. The same organization says the plan from Mitt Romney and common sense conservatives is not a tax hike on the middle class."

Verdict: Both true and misleading. The ad accurately quotes from two separate studies published in early October by the American Enterprise Institute. One study says that households could face tax liabilities of $4,000 a year through 2022 because of mounting federal debt under President Obama, a Democrat. The institute arrived at that figure by stating that households face: an annual $2,400 burden based on a Congressional Budget Office report that the latest White House budget would add $7.6 trillion of debt through 2022; and an additional $1,600 a year in tax liability because of the debt already accrued under Obama. The other study concludes that Romney's plan isn't a tax hike on the middle class but rather "a bold tax reform that would broaden the tax base and lower statutory tax rates across the board." In reaching that conclusion, the institute issued a rebuttal to a Tax Policy Center study relied upon by the Obama campaign that argues Romney's tax plan would benefit the wealthy but hurt the middle class.

Part of the reason the ad is misleading is because the $4,000 annual tax hit calculated by the institute was for households earning $100,000 to $200,000 a year. Many viewers who consider themselves middle class make nowhere near that kind of money. The Census Bureau reported last month that median household income in the United States last year was $50,054 and median family household income was $62,273. That means most Americans cannot relate to six-figure incomes.

Another misleading aspect of the ad is use of the phrase "independent nonpartisan study." This can lead viewers to believe that the source of the study is a neutral party. That's far from the case with the American Enterprise Institute, a leading conservative think tank. On its website it refers to Republican President Gerald Ford as having been "prematurely retired" in 1976, and discusses the "several dozen" institute scholars who were appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan to his administration and to federal judgeships.

One of the institute's scholars is John Bolton, a Romney foreign policy adviser who was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Republican President George W. Bush. The institute's board of trustees include former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney and Peter Coors of the Colorado brewing family that has backed conservative Republicans for decades. Others affiliated with the institute as advisers or scholars include investor Foster Friess, chief backer of failed Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, David Koch, a businessman who helped finance the Republican takeover of the House in 2010, former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, and Paul Wolfowitz, who served as deputy defense secretary under Bush.

To be fair to Romney, the Tax Policy Center used by Obama isn't neutral either. The center is the collaboration of two think tanks, the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution. The Urban Institute's president is Sarah Rosen Wartell, who was Democratic President Bill Clinton's deputy assistant for economic policy and deputy director of his National Economic Council. The Brookings president is Strobe Talbott, who was deputy secretary of state under Clinton.

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