Tag Archives: Mitt Romney

Ortman and Leidiger fudge the facts on the payroll tax increase

The release of Governor Dayton’s budget produced the expected responses from members of Carver County’s legislative delegation, pointing out the sales tax changes (focused on the tax on clothing over $100 and services) as the main enemy in the proposal.

Interestingly enough, though, both State Senator Julianne Ortman and State Representative Ernie Leidiger took another shot at Democrats over taxes — this time at the federal level.

From Ortman’s January 23, 2013 Capitol Report:

In addition to Governor Dayton’s proposed tax increases, President Obama has two major tax increases that will take even more money out of the pockets of hard-working Minnesotans.

This month, wage earners will notice an increase in the amount that they pay for the federal payroll tax. Since the first of the year, most Minnesotans have already seen this happen on their paychecks.

From Leidiger’s January 28, 2013 e-mail to constituents:

Look at it this way: a hardworking middle class family will not only have diminished take-home pay because of higher social security taxes, but they will also have to dig deeper in their pockets for everyday items and services.

Ortman and Leidiger are referring to the expiration of the payroll tax cut on January 1, 2013.  This change increased the Social Security payroll tax rate by 2%, back to its statutory rate of 6.2%.  The rhetoric of the two legislators — particularly Ortman — might lead you to believe that this tax increase was just another way that so-called tax-and-spend Democrats are out to get the middle class.

Well, that just isn’t so.  In fact, when it comes to payroll taxes, Democrats have been the defenders of giving taxpayers a break.  The temporary payroll tax cut was passed in the lame-duck session following the 2010 midterm election and was designed to be a one-year only provision, expiring at the start of 2011.  Over the objections of his caucus, Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner agreed to another one-year extension in the 2011 showdown over the debt ceiling.  And as we approached the fiscal cliff, we should recall that no Republicans were standing up for continuing the extension.  Not Boehner.  Not Mitch McConnell.  Mitt Romney didn’t support extending the payroll tax cut, either.

And while President Barack Obama didn’t make the extension of the payroll tax cut a “must-have” in fiscal cliff negotiations the way he did in 2011, he was forced to scrap plans for an alternative middle- and lower-class tax cut in order to secure the needed Republican votes for passage.

So, let’s recap:  Republicans are blaming Barack Obama for adopting the policy they themselves insisted on.  Ain’t politics grand?

It’s All About the Narrative: Lance Armstrong, the Fake Dead Girlfriend, and our toxic politics

Much of the air in our 24-hour news cycle the last couple of days has been sucked up by a couple of stories of deception from the sports world.  Wednesday afternoon, Deadspin released a well-reported story that showed that the dead girlfriend of Notre Dame standout linebacker Manti Te’o was a hoax.  Not only did Lennay Kekua not die a day after Te’o’s grandmother (and just days before a critical game with Michigan State), she never even existed.

Concurrently, we’ve all heard far too much about Lance Armstrong finally confessing to what had become crystal-clear months ago:  that he had engaged in years of blood doping and use of performance-enhancing drugs in order to win his seven consecutive Tour de France titles.

Both these stories were propelled, amplified, and sold by the media.  Why?  Because they had compelling narratives.  Te’o wasn’t just a great football player, but one overcoming great personal tragedy.  The story of the player who doesn’t stop to grieve but keeps playing — and playing well — is one of the most cherished in all of sports.  And it wasn’t happening at some backwater college — it was happening at Notre Dame.  The home of George Gipp.  And Rudy.  The legend of Te’o, the leader of a fearsome Fighting Irish defense that led the team to an undefeated regular season and an unlikely appearance in the national championship game grew and grew and grew as a result.

Armstrong’s story fit one of our time-honored narratives  as well — the story of the athlete who overcomes injury or illness to reach greater heights.  (Like this one.)  We all knew that cycling was a cesspool of doping and performance-enhancing drugs.  We saw literally dozens of riders per year get kicked out of the Tour de France for violations of rules.  Credible sources were saying Armstrong was violating the rules as early as 2001, but there was always just enough plausible deniability to keep the Armstrong legend alive — he “never failed” a drug test, or the people making the accusations were flawed.

The media was happy to lap up these stories because they fit the narrative and were easily sellable.  Sports Illustrated reporter Pete Thamel uncovered a number of red flags on the Te’o story.  He couldn’t find an obituary or funeral notice.  Searches on Kekua and her brother turned up nothing.  Calls to Stanford produced no record of her being a student.  No details were found on the supposed car crash that had put Kekua into a coma in April.  How was this handled?

You were able to write around it,” Thamel told radio host Dan Patrick.  ESPN made similar mistakes.

Meanwhile, Armstrong had a steady group of stenographers willing to sell his story.  The Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins is at the top of that list, although even now, she still seems nonplussed by the whole scenario.  It helped that Armstrong was legitimately involved in doing good things for cancer research, treatment, and prevention.  Such things helped keep Armstrong’s image largely pristine even in the face of mounting evidence of doping and decisions in his personal life that would have otherwise been more heavily questioned (such a dumping his wife and father of his first three children — the one who stood by him through his cancer treatments — for a singer).  Narrative trumped reality.

So, it’s really no surprise that many in the media are puffing their chest and pointing their fingers at SI and ESPN for their egregious mistakes in fact-checking.  But, really, who are they to talk?  Seemingly everything these days is all about the narrative.  And they’ve been just as guilty of peddling narratives as everyone else.  Reporters swallowed the Republican narrative about Al Gore’s “lies” during the 2000 campaign.  The Republican primary campaign in 2012 was case study in media-driven narratives that came to overrule the news actually happening on the ground, as the media tried them all out on a one-by-one basis to see which one would become the anti-Mitt Romney candidate.

It’s gotten to the point where messaging — creating the narrative — is far more important to politicians than actually having ideas or getting things done.  Mitt Romney ran for President in 2012 with a “plan” that contained for tax cuts, tax reform, and spending cuts.  Yet he offered no details of what the tax reform or spending cuts would be. He chose to run on narrative instead of specifics.

One need only look at the fiscal cliff fiasco to see more evidence of that.  Politicians of both parties conspired to create a fake crisis that could be used to push their preferred narratives — all the way to the brink of putting the country’s economy at risk.  You can’t govern a country when your primary goal is selling narrative instead of doing stuff to make people’s lives better.  It’s toxic to getting the job done.

Listen, it’s certainly important for politicians to be able to articulate what their values and beliefs are.  But it’s far more important to have politicians who are able to get things done.  We need more politicians who are willing and able to bypass an open microphone in order to do the work we pay them to do.  We need more journalists willing to be skeptical and not just buy the narrative or report the “view from nowhere”.  And we need a public less willing to just accept what journalists are feeding to you every night.

Elites agree: it’s time for you and your kids to pay for their failures

Today’s POLITICO has one of those only-in-the-Beltway kinds of stories that make you wonder if there’s any signs of life there at all.  Reported by Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen, it’s a synthesis of elite opinion (lawmakers and staffers from both sides of the aisle, as well as business executives) about what needs to be done to get our economy back on track once and for all.  Now certainly, there’s some good stuff in there — expanding immigration for high-skilled workers, for instance, is something that is long overdue.  But let’s be clear here.  The elite agenda for “fixing” our economy calls for significant doses of sacrifice from the middle class and working poor and precious little sacrifice from them.

Let’s start off with the sacrifice that the elites are willing to make — an increase in taxes for those making over $250,000 a year.  This would raise the top marginal tax rate (on income over $250,000) from 35% to the Clinton-era rate of 39.6%.  That’s certainly something, although one could fairly argue that returning to the tax rates that coincided with the best period of economic growth this country has had in the last 20 years might not be the worst thing in the world.  But let’s look at what isn’t on the table.

Changes to capital gains taxes?  Nope.  They’ll continue to get their much lower rate, meaning that folks like Mitt Romney or Paris Hilton who live off of investment income will continue to pay tax rates in the 15% range — lower than many middle-class and working poor families.  Not only that, but hedge fund and private equity investors will still get to treat their regular earnings as investment income instead of wage income, saving some individuals millions in tax liability every year.

Taxes on financial transactions or financial speculation?  Nope.  In the wake of the financial market meltdown in 2008, some suggested using a transaction tax on stock or bond transactions or higher rates on short-term capital gains as a means to both discourage speculative activity that makes the markets more volatile as well as creating a fund to deal with the damage created by current (and future) market failures.  These are still not on the table.

Breakup of the largest financial institutions?  Nope.  The 2008 market meltdown required government intervention to prevent the collapse of institutions deemed “too big to fail”.  What largely happened in these cases is that other large banks ended up buying the failing banks.  So an industry that was already unduly concentrated and prone to risk has become even more concentrated and even more prone to risk (despite some of good provisions in Dodd-Frank).

All of these items would represent real sacrifice for the elites in our society, but they’re not on the table.  What are they asking of the middle class and the working poor?  Oh, not much, except the gutting of perhaps the two most effective government programs at providing income security and health care to Americans.  Banks and financial institutions get bailouts when they make bad decisions.  Now the government is poised to give you insecurity when you retire after decades of hard work.

Sacrifice for thee, not for me

Medicare is the largest contributor to the future deficit problem due the explosion in both the number of seniors citizens and the continuing rise in health care costs (at a rate much faster than inflation in the rest of the economy, which means it will have to be part of the solution.  But there’s smart ways to reform Medicare and stupid ways to reform Medicare.  As befits our current political dialogue, the ones that are being debated are the stupid ones.

One of most likely changes to Medicare is an increase in the age of eligibility from 65 to 67.  At a base level, this doesn’t sound like that big of a deal.  Well, the problem is that in trying to save the federal government a little money, we’re going to end up spending a lot more overall.  Increasing the age to 67 would save the federal government about $5.7 billion a year, but would raise individual out-of-pocket expenses by $3.7 billion, and increase the insurance premium expense for employers by $4.5 billion.  Already, we’ve made the overall system less efficient by $2.5 billion, but we’re not done yet.  Adding 65- and 66-year-olds to the general health insurance pool is going to make everyone else’s health insurance more expensive (because the overall population will be sicker) — that’s another $2.5 billion.  Finally, states are going to have additional health expense on some of these seniors totaling about $0.7 billion.  If you total it up, the financial cost to society of changing the Medicare eligibility age is twice as large the savings we would see in the deficit.  That’s not a good trade-off.  (And that’s before we look at some of the non-financial impacts.)

There are smart ways to save money — significant money — in Medicare going forward.  We can end fee-for-service payment policies and replace them with paying providers for results.  We can give Medicare enhanced power to negotiate prices with suppliers — particularly for prescription drugs.    We can research the statistically most effective and cost-efficient ways to treat conditions and encourage providers to use those guidelines.  These are the types of reforms that we should be pursuing.

Perhaps even more galling in the context of the current budget debate is the fact that Social Security is getting dragged into the mix.  Social Security contributes nothing to our nation’s current budget deficit.  In fact, Social Security ran a $69 million surplus in 2011 and is projected to run surpluses for the next decade.  We have 20 years before the Trust Fund is exhausted (under current projections), and the simple act of removing the cap on the payroll tax would resolve at least 95% of the projected deficit going forward.  And if we did nothing, the cost of filling the gap after the Trust Fund is exhausted is less than 1% of GDP — a relative pittance compared to Medicare.

Instead, we’re seeing the same shortsighted tactics on Social Security as we are on Medicare.  What’s on the table is an increase in the retirement age from 67 to 70, and changing the way inflation is calculated so that such increases would be smaller than they are today.  These changes would have severe negative impacts on future retirees, but they would only raise 1/3 of the money that removing the payroll cap on the wealthy would.  Yet, no one’s really talking seriously about major reform to the payroll tax cap.

Big bad ideas

These reform plans for Medicare and Social Security are based on two big ideas, both of which are misguided.  The first bad big idea is “People are living longer, so increasing the eligibility ages is no big deal!”.  And while that’s true, it’s not true in the same way for everybody.  Wealthy Americans have seen their life expectancies improve by six years since 1977, while folks in the lower half of the income distribution have seen only an increase of one year in that time period.  These workers are more likely to be in blue-collar industries that are more reliant on physical labor.  Working in those jobs in their upper-sixties with questionable health insurance just isn’t a winning proposition.

Source:  The Incidental Economist

Source: The Incidental Economist

The other really bad big idea in these plans is “We have to protect current seniors”.  It’s certainly true that low- and middle-income seniors shouldn’t be expected to see substantial changes to these programs.  But if this is the kind of crisis that makes one of our political parties willing to risk defaulting on our bonds, maybe rich seniors should make some sort of contribution to solving the problem?  Certainly, there are wealthy seniors (and seniors-to-be) who could afford to pay co-pays for Medicare or take some means testing on their Social Security check today.  It hardly seems fair to think that the bill for this financial mess should be borne primarily by the children and grandchildren of those who ran up the credit card in the first place.  If we’re not willing to require any sort of contribution by today’s seniors (and seniors-to-be) to solving this crisis, aren’t we in fact admitting that it isn’t a crisis and just a problem that needs to be addressed in a reasoned manner?

Passing the buck and the bill

And it gets worse yet.  Many of the elites pushing these sorts of “solutions” to the problem are simultaneously pushing for so-called tax reform that would lower corporate taxes.  David Cote, the CEO of Honeywell, has been one of the key public faces behind Fix the Debt, a business organization that has made a large effort to influence the debate.  Cote loves to talk about tax reform as a part of this process, but what he doesn’t like to talk about is that he’s really trying to eliminate the corporate income tax.  If corporate taxes are eliminated, guess who’s going to get the bill to make up the lost revenue?  (Hint:  It’s not David Cote.)

I’m not opposed to tax reform.  But tax reform shouldn’t consist of a series of handouts to one group while demanding sacrifices from another.

And guess what else isn’t on the table as part of these negotiations?  Any real attempt to focus on the unemployment problem.  Basically, at this point we’re left to hope that if the elites get their way and extract the appropriate sacrifice from everyone else that the certainty created by such maneuvers will suddenly convince business owners to start creating jobs.  Of course, that notion in and of itself is misguided.  Businesses don’t create jobs out of certainty — they create jobs because there is demand for their product and services.  To create demand for their products and services, we need to have a population that has jobs and disposable income to spend.  Cutting Medicare and Social Security while squeezing government spending through austerity does nothing to improve the employment picture or improve household income.

We have a medium- to long-term deficit problem that needs to be addressed.  The important thing we need to remember is that it’s far more important to do the right thing for all of our citizens than to just earn political scalps by “raising taxes on the wealthy” or “cutting entitlements”.  These problems are about more than numbers on a spreadsheet — they have real world impacts that CEOs or lawmakers or writers for Washington D.C. political journals will never have to deal with.  It’s time for the voices of those who don’t attend Georgetown cocktail parties to be heard as part of this process as well.

Eastern Carver County takes some steps in a moderate direction

Every election cycle, we get the requisite story about Carver County’s long history of voting Republican.  2012 was largely a continuation of that trend, with Mitt Romney racking up nearly 60% of the vote in the County, and Congressional and Legislative Republicans winning re-election.  But there were some signs that the “suburbanization” of eastern Carver County may be starting to make Chanhassen and Chaska look more like their Hennepin County neighbors than like the rest of Carver County.

Let’s start off with the U.S. Senate race.  For the first time in recent memory, a Democratic candidate won the county.  Senator Amy Klobuchar cruised to victory by a double-digit margin over Republican nominee Kurt Bills.  Klobuchar won eight of the nine precincts in House District 47B (all of Chaska, precincts 3-5 of Chanhassen, and precincts 1-2 of Victoria), and tied with Bills in the ninth.  Much of that has to do with Bills’s historical weakness as a candidate, but it also speaks to the kind of Senator Klobuchar has been.  (Keep in mind, Klobuchar lost Carver County six years ago to Mark Kennedy).  Klobuchar has taken a moderate, low-key approach in the Senate, focusing on consumer issues and taking centrist positions on civil liberties and foreign policy, as well as many business issues.

Another notable result was on the marriage amendment.  If you look at House District 47B, the marriage amendment lost by nine points (45.4% yes vs. 54.6% no/no-vote).  The weak performance of the marriage amendment (compared to expectations) in traditional Republican areas like Carver County can in large part explain why it failed on a state-wide basis.

Interestingly enough, this vote puts eastern Carver County’s legislators, State Sen. Julianne Ortman and State Rep. Joe Hoppe, squarely in opposition with a large block of their constituents (While Hoppe’s 47B voted solidly against the amendment, 47A voted in favor of the amendment, allowing it to win SD 47 with 50.1%).  Both voted in favor of putting the amendment on the ballot, and Ortman fought back hard against allegations that she hadn’t been supportive enough of the amendment during her campaign for the GOP endorsement against Bruce Schwichtenberg.  Will Ortman and Hoppe back off of their support for their party’s divisive social agenda?

Meanwhile, the Carver County Commissioner races continued to show trends began in 2010.  In that cycle, the three incumbent commissioners on the ballot withstood challenges from the right.  This year, with all five incumbents up for re-election thanks to redistricting, all five incumbents were victorious.  Four of those incumbents fended off challenges from the right.  Tom Workman was the exception, as he was the lone incumbent who faced a less-partisan challenger.

What does this mean?  Is eastern Carver County poised to “turn blue”?  It may be too soon to say that, but it does show that demographic trends are likely over time to make this area more competitive than it has been in the past.  And Democratic candidates with the right mix of qualities can get a fair hearing from voters in these areas.  Democratic efforts should be focused on party-building and creating the infrastructure to support and develop these types of candidates that can compete and eventually win in eastern Carver County.  Klobuchar and State Senator Terri Bonoff are good examples of the sort of moderate candidates that would fit that mold.

[Edited to clarify a point on the marriage amendment, 11:20 11/13]

The Romney campaign, distilled in four paragraphs

ABC’s George Stephanopoulos interviewed Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney today.  Here’s a telling passage from Stephanopoulos’s recount of the interview (emphasis added):

Democrats say Romney’s plan would cause a $2000 tax hike on the middle class – something Romney disputes and points to a number of studies that say his plan to cut taxes will not increase the deficit, including one by Harvard professor Martin Feldstein.

Feldstein says Romney’s math will work, but he would have to eliminate the home mortgage, charitable, state and local tax deductions for incomes greater than $100,000.

When I pressed Romney on that point, he conceded that he actually hadn’t read the Feldstein report that he and Paul Ryan cite on the campaign trail.

“I haven’t seen his precise study,” he said.

Mitt Romney’s math doesn’t work.  Of course, it’s easy for him to say otherwise, because he hasn’t actually detailed what he would do.  He’s painted in the broadest possible strokes to avoid having to spell out the hard decisions that his principles would imply.  Heck, it seems he can’t even be bothered to know the details of what the people who are at least sorta defending him are saying.

The American people deserve to know the true measure of the choice they are making.  Mitt Romney needs to produce a much more detailed budget plan — or else he needs to stop complaining about other people filling in the gaps he refuses to fill himself.

Mitt Romney spouts pseudo-business nonsense

Over at Slate, Eliot Spitzer points out a couple of disturbing notions that Mitt Romney has trotted out in recent interviews.  At one time, Romney was a very competent businessman.  If this is what he truly believes nowadays, though, he would be a spectacularly bad President.

Point 1:  Romney says he’s going to “treat his Cabinet like a Board of Directors

As Spitzer points out, Cabinet secretaries have radically different roles than directors.  The Board of Directors of a large corporation is generally made up primarily of outsiders — people who don’t work in the day-to-day operations of the firm.  Instead, on a part-time basis, they provide oversight to the CEO and senior managers.  They review the strategic direction of the company, approve executive compensation, and if the company is underperforming, they have the power to remove the CEO and hire a replacement.  Cabinet secretaries, on the other hand, are the day-to-day managers of the operations of the executive branch.  They take their marching orders from the President, and they are responsible for the details.

Point 2:  Romney would spend at least 4% of GDP on defense

By all measures, defense spending has been substantially increased since 9/11.  The 2013 defense budget is 35% larger it was in 2001.  Romney’s promise would grow defense spending by 87% over the next decade, despite the fact that we have pulled out of Iraq and are slowly winding down operations in Afghanistan.

But even more than that, one has to wonder what the substantive linkage between GDP and defense spending is?  Shouldn’t our level of defense spending be based on an assessment of what our defense needs are?  Arbitrarily tying military spending to the economy — particularly at the levels proposed by Romney — is a recipe for waste and grift.  Is there anyone out there who really thinks we need to nearly double our defense expenditures?

So why is Romney making these sorts of proposals — that defy any rational look at the issue?  One can only wonder, but unfortunately, such efforts to cloak dubious policies in the language of business by people who are better than talking about business than actually engaging in it are not uncommon from today’s GOP.

There’s ways that make sense to bring the principles of business into the workings of government — tenets of program and project management, for instance.  Applying rigorous measurements and scoring to determine the effectiveness of programs is another way.  But when politicians cloak half-baked policy ideas in business-speak, it degrades the very real expertise and knowledge that business leaders can bring to the political process.  If I tried to run these sorts of nonsensical ideas past my boss, I’d get shut down in a hurry and told not to come back until things had been completely reworked.  We should tell Romney and the GOP the very same thing.

Let’s talk equality of opportunity for a moment

With the issue of income inequality poised to play a significant role in the 2012 election, let’s talk about the  rhetoric that’s flying around.  Republicans like to talk about how the policies of Democrats and President Obama would create “equality of outcomes”, while Republicans wish to create “equality of opportunity”.  And, in fact, the implication has been from many Republicans, that “equality of opportunity” already exists.  Like Mitt Romney, for instance:

“It would be popular for me to stand up and say I’m going to give you government money to pay for your college, but I’m not going to promise that,” he said, to sustained applause from the crowd at a high-tech metals assembly factory here. “Don’t just go to one that has the highest price. Go to one that has a little lower price where you can get a good education. And hopefully you’ll find that. And don’t expect the government to forgive the debt that you take on.”

Does equality of opportunity exist?  Well, that’s highly questionable.  Look, for instance, at the higher-education situation:

What this data is shows is the percentage of students completing a four-year degree broken down by their test scores in eighth grade and their income levels.  What it shows is that low-income (bottom 25%) students with high test scores (top 25%) have basically the same probability of graduating college as high income (top 25%) students with low test scores (bottom 25%).  

We’re not strictly dealing with a meritocracy here, are we?

Rhetorically, I completely agree with the notion of “equality of opportunity” as being preferable to “equality of outcomes”.   Let’s not delude ourselves, though, into thinking that equality of opportunity exists.  It doesn’t.  This isn’t the time to cut vital programs (like Pell Grants) that help low-income students climb the ladder.  This isn’t the time to continue to squeeze our public schools and subject them to budget games on a yearly basis.  This isn’t the time to pull up the ladder and tell everyone at the bottom of the scale, “you’re on your own”.

Our “Entitlement Society” by the numbers

A common theme you hear from Republican politicians these days is that government’s growing entitlement programs are creating a large permanent class of people willing to live off of government benefits instead of working.

In an Entitlement Society, government provides every citizen the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to innovate, pioneer or take risk. – Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney

The good news for us is that there’s data we can use to evaluate those claims, and that’s just what the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities did.  The bad news for Republican politicians is that their claims don’t hold up when you look at the data.

The CBPP looked at the 11 largest federal entitlement programs, which represented 88% of entitlement spending in the 2010 budget — a total of $1.83 trillion.  Included are Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Child Tax Credit, among others.

Here’s how the spending broke down:

53% of entitlement spending went to the persons over the age of 65 (primarily through Social Security and Medicare).  20% went to those under the age of 65 who are disabled, while another 18% went to households where at least one person worked at least 20 hours a week.  3% of the entitlement spending was for unemployment benefits, which require a history of employment in order to be eligible.

Government dependency can only foster passivity and sloth. – Romney

So let’s total it up — 73% of entitlement spending goes to people who we don’t expect to work (the elderly and disabled).  21% of entitlement spending goes to the working poor or people who recently lost employment.  So that leaves just 6% of entitlement spending to people who fall outside those categories.

What sort of spending is in that 6%?  Well, most of that spending is Social Security-related:   survivor benefits for children and spouses of deceased workers and payments to people who elected to retire early between ages 62 and 64.  There’s also some Medicaid expense for the non-working, non-disabled poor.  Those three categories represent two-thirds of that remaining 6%.

In summary, then, you’ve got somewhere between 2% and 6% of entitlement spending that could be being directed at folks who may not really need it — depending on if you want to classify people collecting survivors benefits as passive and sloth-like.  Is this really an “Entitlement Society” or just empty sloganeering?

Santorum cruises to caucus victory in Carver County

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum easily won the Presidential Preference Ballot at the Republican Precinct Caucuses in Senate District 34 (Carver County plus three precincts in Scott County) last night.

Santorum collected 589 votes (49.1% of voters who indicated a preference), more than doubling the total of second-place finisher, Rep. Ron Paul, who had 272 votes (22.7%).  Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was third with 216 votes (18.0%) and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was fourth with 122 votes (10.2%).

Santorum also won the statewide ballot, taking 45.0% of the vote (as of 12:30 p.m. on February 8, with 97.5% of precincts reporting).  Paul was second (27.1%), followed by Romney (16.9%), and Gingrich (10.8%).

$374,000 is “not very much” to Mitt Romney

After receiving criticism from Republican rivals as well as Democrats, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has agreed that he will release his 2011 tax return after it is filed in April.

Romney estimated that personal effective tax rate would be around 15 percent:

“What’s the effective rate I’ve been paying? It’s probably closer to the 15 percent rate than anything,” Romney, a GOP presidential candidate, said. “My last 10 years, I’ve — my income comes overwhelmingly from some investments made in the past, whether ordinary income or earned annually. I got a little bit of income from my book, but I gave that all away. And then I get speaker’s fees from time to time, but not very much.”

The last part of that quote is the most interesting.  How much does Mitt Romney make in speaker’s fees?  Well, Romney’s financial disclosure form reveals that he made $374,327.62 in speaking fees from February 26, 2010 to February 20, 2011.

That “not very much” is over seven times the median household income ($49,445) in the United States.  In fact, Romney made more than that amount — in one day — on three separate occasions over that year-long period.

Yes, I’m sure Romney meant the “not very much” in comparison to his investment income that he receives from his extensive portfolio.  But it still strikes at the fundamental tone-deafness that many voters perceive from Romney.

Mitt Romney is not a person who understands how the economy works from the perspective of the middle-class person.  He can’t even relate to the upper middle-class, for that matter.  He can’t understand the pressures that middle-class voters feel, and he can’t comprehend the anxiety that economic conditions like our current ones create.

Unless he finds a way to articulate and demonstrate how his policies that give continued favored treatment to the wealthy will help all Americans, Romney is going to have real difficulty trying to connect with the independent and undecided voters that will decide this election.

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