Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan (Getty Images)
By David Jackson, USA TODAY
President Obama's campaign offered Mitt Romney a deal today: Release five years of tax returns, and we'll stop demanding more.
Romney's campaign refused, calling the Obama request a political ploy designed to distract voters.
"It is clear that President Obama wants nothing more than to talk about Governor Romney's tax returns instead of the issues that matter to voters, like putting Americans back to work, fixing the economy and reining in spending," Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades wrote in a response to Obama counterpart Jim Messina.
In an earlier missive to the Republican camp, Messina wrote: "Governor Romney apparently fears that the more he offers, the more our campaign will demand that he provide.
"So," Messina added, "I am prepared to provide assurances on just that point: If the Governor will release five years of returns, I commit in turn that we will not criticize him for not releasing more -- neither in ads nor in other public communications or commentary for the rest of the campaign."
Replied Rhoades to Messina: "If Governor Romney's tax returns are the core message of your campaign, there will be ample time for President Obama to discuss them over the next 81 days."
In a reference to the first presidential debate on Oct. 3, Rhoades also told Messina: "See you in Denver."
The Obama offer came a day after Romney said he has paid a tax rate of at least 13% per year over the past decade, as reported by Catalina Camia on our OnPolitics blog.
In his letter, Messina wrote that other candidates have released more than five years of returns. He said a Romney release would "help answer outstanding questions raised by the one return he has released to date, such as the range in the effective rates paid, the foreign accounts maintained, the foreign investments made, and the types of tax shelters used."
Also from Messina:
To provide these five years, the Governor would have to release only three more sets of returns in addition to the 2010 return he has released and the 2011 return he has pledged to provide. And, I repeat, the Governor and his campaign can expect in return that we will refrain from questioning whether he has released enough or pressing for more.
In his reply, Rhoades wrote: "Governor Romney will continue to lay out his plans for a stronger middle class, to save Medicare, to put work back into welfare, and help the 23 million Americans struggling to find work in the Obama economy."
Demands for tax returns have dogged Romney throughout the Republican primaries and the general election.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., amped up the issue by claiming that a "source" told him that Romney has paid no taxes at all in some years.
Romney said, "Harry Reid's charge is totally false," and he doubts anyone told Reid that.
In divulging the 13% figure, the Republican candidate also told reporters that the tax issue is being used to distract people.
"I have to say, given the challenges America faces -- 23 million people out of work, Iran about to become nuclear, one out of six Americans in poverty -- the fascination with taxes I paid I find to be very small-minded compared to the broad issues that we face," Romney said.