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Parties Debate Meaning, Value Of 'Redistribution'

Mitt Romney speaks in Miami on Wednesday.
J Pat Carter
Mitt Romney speaks in Miami on Wednesday.

Cuban-Americans know a thing or two about what can happen when a government seizes wealth and redistributes it, as Fidel Castro's regime did five decades ago in Cuba.

So Mitt Romney had an especially receptive audience Wednesday night at a rally of Cuban-Americans in Miami, when he launched his campaign's latest line of attack on President Obama.

"He said some years ago something which we're hearing about today on the Internet," Romney told the crowd. "He said that he believes in redistribution."

Romney was referring to ads posted online this week by the Republican National Committee. They contain snippets of a 14-year-old video of then-Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama discussing city government and public policy at a university forum.

'I Actually Believe In Redistribution'

"I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and, hence, facilitate some redistribution, because I actually believe in redistribution," Obama can be heard saying on the video, from 1998.

In the original recording, the future president went on to stress the need to foster competition and innovation in the marketplace. But that was left out of the ads.

Romney gave the crowd in Miami his own take on his rival's erstwhile remarks.

"There are people who believe that you can create a stronger economy and a brighter future if you take from some people and give to other people," Romney said, as the crowd yelled "No" in response. "Other places that have tried that haven't done so well," said Romney. "That is not a philosophy that's ever been tried here and we're not gonna have it here."

Progressive Taxation

In fact, taking from some and giving to others is a concept long enshrined in the nation's tax code.

At a town hall last year, Romney himself rejected taxing everyone at the same flat rate.

"There are some tax proposals that are called a flat tax that I don't agree with because they end up being huge breaks for the highest-income Americans, of which I happen to have been one, still am, and I'm not looking for a tax break for me," Romney said.

Taxing wealthy people at a higher rate than others is what's known as progressive taxation.

"I think we've always had a progressive taxation system, and most tax reform proposals that I've seen, including those that have been put forward by Gov. Romney, are progressive," said South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune, one of Romney's closest allies.

Earlier this year, Romney laid out a tax plan he promised would benefit all equally: "I'm gonna make an across-the-board, 20 percent reduction in marginal, individual income tax rates; 20 percent down, across the board," said Romney.

'Redistribution At Its Worst'

But what Romney proposed, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, would cut average federal tax rates for the bottom 40 percent of income earners by about 3 percent, while those in the top 1/10th of 1 percent would have their rates cut nearly 22 percent.

"You'd have to say it's regressive," said Eric Toder, co-director of the Tax Policy Center. "It helps the highest-income people proportionately more."

Romney, he says, has promised to eliminate enough still-unspecified tax loopholes for the wealthy to make his tax plan equitable.

"Based on what he's ruled out, we don't think he can do it. But nonetheless, that is what he's claiming," said Toder.

Democrats, meanwhile, are turning Romney's latest line of attack against him.

"The Romney-Ryan budget is a distributionist budget," Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said Wednesday. "It distributes wealth from the middle class to the wealthy. That's redistribution at its worst."

Democrats also say Republicans back another form of redistribution: Of the top 10 states receiving more in federal funding than what they paid in federal taxes, nine went for the GOP nominee in the last presidential election.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.