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Romney, Obama surrogates clash over '47 percent' comments

Updated at 11:25 am ET Surrogates for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama clashed Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press over Romney’s comment at a fundraiser that he cannot win 47 percent of the voters because they see themselves as “victims” and have become so dependent on government entitlements that they’ll vote for Obama “no matter what.”

Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick and Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte visit NBC's Meet the Press to support their respective candidates in the 2012 presidential campaign.

Massachusetts Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick accused Romney of “turning his back on half the country” with his comments. Patrick said his own mother had relied on food stamps but aspired “to get to a better place, to get her GED, to get a job, to stand on her own two feet. The notion that she, or we, or people like us would be belittled while we needed some help to be able to stand on our own two feet is exactly what Gov. Romney is conveying.”

And despite persistent high unemployment – with the jobless rate staying above 8 percent since February of 2009 – Patrick contended that Obama deserved credit: “We’ve seen the country brought back from the brink of depression. Are we done? Of course not, of course not. But we’re certainly on a better course. ”

But Romney advocate Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R- N.H. told NBC’s David Gregory that Romney’s comments at the fundraiser were “not a governing philosophy” and that he “has a vision for 100 percent of America.”

She argued that the sluggish economy and continued high unemployment were Obama’s fault since he and the Democrats controlled both the White House and Congress for the first two years of his presidency and could do whatever they chose to do. She argued that Obama’s policies, principally the $830 billion stimulus, had failed – and the result is too many Americans being forced to rely on unemployment insurance and food stamps.

“I see 15 million more people on food stamps that don’t want to be there….These people want to get off of food stamps and have those good jobs, but where the economy is right now so many people have lost hope. In fact, the last jobs report showed that for every job added, four people have left the workforce,” she said. 

Ayotte noted that the labor participation rate keeps falling – “people are leaving the workforce.” The labor participation rate -- the proportion of the civilian population 16 years of age and older either working or seeking work-- is at 63.7 percent, the lowest level since the early 1980s.

Romney, she said, wants “upward mobility” for the single mother on good stamps and for other hard-pressed Americans 

On the question of the tax return that Romney released on Friday, Patrick said “the more important issue is what he plans to do with my taxes and yours and everybody else’s.”

He said Romney’s tax cut proposal included no offsetting revenues and would enlarge future budget deficits.

In an interview on the CBS program Face the Nation Sunday, former president Bill Clinton commented on Romney’s 47 percent remarks, saying some of the people who pay no federal income tax do pay Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes as well as state and local taxes.

“They are out of the federal income tax pool for two reasons: one is the economic crash which lowered a lot of people’s incomes. Even a lot of the newer jobs don’t pay high incomes,” Clinton said.

The second reason, he said is the combined effect of the Earned Income Tax Credit -- which offsets payroll tax payments by low-wage workers -- and the Child Tax Credit, which goes to middle-income and lower-income parents with children age 17 and younger. During his presidency, Clinton noted, he and congressional Republicans agreed to extend both tax credits.

Clinton said a lot of low-wage workers who benefit from the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, “would love to make enough money to pay federal income tax.”

Asked whether Romney had a point in arguing that too many Americans have become dependent on entitlement payments, such as food stamps, Clinton said, “We have to wait until normal growth resumes to make that judgment….  A heck of a lot of this money is unemployment and food stamps and Medicaid for people who lost their private health insurance.”

He predicted that “the number of people dependent on the government will go way, way down once we’ve got an economy that’s functioning again.”

 

Polls released last week showed Romney lagging Obama in three important states, Colorado, Wisconsin and Iowa.

According to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls in Colorado and Wisconsin, Obama is ahead by 5 points among likely voters (including those leaning toward a candidate), 50 percent to 45 percent.

In Iowa, the president’s lead over Romney is 8 points, 50 percent to 42 percent.

But the most recent Gallup national tracking poll shows the race exactly tied, with 47 percent favoring Romney and 47 percent favoring Obama.