Governor Mitt Romney held a hastily organized press conference Monday night to respond to off the cuff comments he made at a May fundraiser in which he dismissed nearly half of Americans as being dependent on government and lacking personal responsibility. The comments stand in contrast to those he made last week to faith leaders who work with the poor.
Romney's comments were caught on a videoreleased by Mother Jones magazine. The magazine reports that Romney made his remarks at a May 17 fundraiser at the Boca Raton home of a private equity manager. Responding to a question on his political campaign, Romney said he was writing off nearly half of the electorate.
"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it."
Romney said that 47 percent of Americans pay no income taxes. This figure excludes state income taxes, social security and medicare payroll taxes, and sales taxes. It also includes most retirees whose income comes from social security and receive Medicare coverage.
"My job is not to worry about those people," Romney said. "I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
New York Times columnist David Brooks was one of many who believe that entitlement programs need reform but who were also shocked by Romney's comments.
"Romney's comments also reveal that he has lost any sense of the social compact,"Brooks wrote. "The Republican Party, and apparently Mitt Romney, too, has shifted over toward a much more hyperindividualistic and atomistic social view — from the Reaganesque language of common citizenship to the libertarian language of makers and takers. There's no way the country will trust the Republican Party to reform the welfare state if that party doesn't have a basic commitment to provide a safety net for those who suffer for no fault of their own."
The fundraiser video release came on the heels of Romney's video messages to faith leaders in the Circle of Protection, a broad coalition of Christian leaders calling for debt reduction proposals that protect government programs aimed at poverty.
Romney told the Circle that the way to help the most vulnerable Americans is to invigorate the economy.
"If we're going to help lift our brothers and sisters out of poverty, we must restore our economy and reduce the debt," Romney said. "When our economy is healthy and growing we have the resources to take care of those who still find themselves in need."
The Republican nominee vowed he would "proceed carefully" as he made budget cuts and reformed entitlement programs.
"Our government rightfully provides a safety net for the hungry, the homeless, the sick, and the elderly and we have the responsibility to keep it intact for future generations," Romney said.
President Barack Obama also addressed the Circle. He said, "We can pay down our debt in a balanced and responsible way, but we cannot balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable. We certainly can't ask the poor, the sick, those with disabilities to sacrifice even more or ask the middle class to pay more just so we can offer massive new tax cuts to those who have been blessed with the most. It's not just bad economics. It's morally wrong."
Obama said that government programs are not the only solution to social problems, but there is a role for government to help the poor and vulnerable.
"Not every tax dollar is spent wisely. Not everyone can be helped who refuses to help themselves," Obama said. "But that's not an excuse to tell our fellow Americans they're on their own."