Axelrod Hones Focus on Romney, Payroll Tax Cut Extension

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Senior Obama strategist David Axelrod won’t say whether he considers Mitt Romney the likely Republican nominee. But he doesn’t have to.

Axelrod’s laser-like focus on Romney today during a conference call organized to discuss his record marks a new phase in the Democratic offensive against the former Massachusetts governor, and one that coincides with the Republican candidate’s solidifying front-runner status.

Axelrod took particular aim at Romney’s comments during Tuesday night’s GOP debate that referred to President Obama’s proposed payroll tax cut extension as a “little Band-Aid” for dealing with a big economic problem – a remark also exploited by the Democratic National Committee in a new web video.

“Gov. Romney robotically repeated the words ‘middle class’ throughout the debate,” Axelrod said, “but when you look at his program, what you find is that … the tax benefits largely accrue to corporations and upper income Americans. And when you get down to the middle class, since most don’t take advantage of capital gains … it means a $50 tax cut for the typical family.

“The logic of touting a program that gives a $50 tax cut to the typical family, but suggesting that in this difficult time you’re going to allow the payroll tax cut to expire is lost on me,” he added.

The Obama administration estimates extending the tax cut would yield an average $1,500 in tax savings for 160 million American families.

Romney has previously opposed temporary payroll tax cut extensions because, he said, they would add to the deficit. Instead, he prefers “permanent changes to the tax code.”

Axelrod cited testimony by leading U.S. economist Mark Zandi, a former economic adviser to Sen. John McCain who is widely respected by members of both parties, to stress the payroll tax cut extension is “absolutely essential.”  Zandi said last week that a failure to act could trigger another recession in 2012.

Axelrod’s comments also underscored Democrats’ recent efforts to paint Romney as a “flip-flopper” on fundamental policy positions, including abortion, gay rights, environmental protections and health care reform.

“On health care, [Romney] continued to assert that his program, which was, in fact, a model for much of what we did in our health program, was simply for the state of Massachusetts and that every state has to develop its own program,” Axelrod said. “But in 2007, he told Newsweek that the Massachusetts plan would be a ‘model for the nation.’”

The American people “want to know that where the president was yesterday is where he’ll be today, is where he’ll be tomorrow, and that the commitments that he makes are ones that they can count on,” Axelrod said. “It’s hardly the case [for Romney] when you’re all over the lot as [he] was last night, has been through this campaign, has been throughout his career.”

UPDATE: Senior Romney campaign adviser Eric Ferhnstrom responded to Axelrod on Twitter: “Mitt Romney believes this election is about saving America but @davidaxelrod thinks it’s about saving Barack Obama’s job.”

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