Mitt Romney backs payroll tax cut extension

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks to employees at BAE Systems in Nashua, N.H., Monday, Nov. 21, 2011.
AP Photo/Winslow Townson
Mitt Romney
AP Photo/Winslow Townson

Updated at 4:54 p.m. ET

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Monday clarified that he supports extending the payroll tax cut, opening him up to charges of flip-flopping from Democrats.

"I would like to see the payroll tax cut extended just because I know that working families are really feeling the pinch right now -- middle-class Americans are having a hard time," Romney told conservative talk radio host Michael Medved.

On Fox News Monday afternoon, Romney said he supports extending the pay roll tax cut because now is not a good time to raise taxes on anybody -- though he added that the pay roll tax cut alone will not re-ignite the economy. He said he would not pay for it by "raising taxes on other people."

The White House has been aggressively pushing congressional Republicans to support an extension of the tax cut, which is set to expire at the end of the year. "It would spur spending, it would spur hiring, and it's the right things to do," Mr. Obama said yesterday.

Some Republicans have said the tax cut is an ineffective form of stimulus, and they are opposed to Democrats' plans to pay for it in part with a surtax on millionaires. Senate Democrats on Monday unveiled the latest version of their bill to extend the tax cut, which they say is a compromise.

Romney's unequivocal support for extending the tax cut on Monday comes after the GOP candidate gave more opaque remarks on the issue in past Republican debates. In a November 9 debate, Romney suggested he supported extending the payroll tax cut but never directly said so. "I don't want to raise taxes on people in the middle of a recession. Of course not," he said. "But, look, this issue of deficits and spending is not about just dollars and cents. It's a moral issue. It's a moral imperative."

In an October 11 debate, Romney suggested he opposed the extension. "The right course for America is not to keep spending money on stimulus bills, but instead to make permanent changes to the tax code," he said, arguing a temporary payroll tax cut would be ineffective at creating jobs. "I don't like temporary little Band-Aids, I want to fundamentally restructure America's foundation economically."

Democrats have pounced on the seeming shift to once again cast Romney as a flip-flopper. The Democratic National Committee yesterday released a video highlighting his comments on the payroll tax cut as part of their "Which Mitt" campaign, which focuses on Romney's apparent flip flops.

Newt Gingrich, the other top contender for the Republican nomination, said back in August that opposing the tax cut would be unwise for Republicans. "I think it's very hard not to keep the payroll tax cut in this economy," Gingrich said at the conservative Heritage Foundation, Talking Points Memo reports. "I don't know what Republicans are going to say, but I think it's very hard to say 'no.' We're going to end up in a position where we're gonna raise taxes on the lowest income Americans the day they go to work and make life harder for small businesses."

In the November 9 debate, Gingrich said with respect to extending the payroll tax cut, "I'm not prepared to raise taxes on working Americans in the middle of a recession that's this bad."