Class war

So the campaign will come down to “He’s a much bigger millionaire than I am.”

FLORENCE, S.C. — Mitt Romney bowed to political pressure on Tuesday by promising to release his federal income tax returns, while estimating the rate he pays at about 15 percent and placing himself among the wealthiest Americans who earn most of their money from past investments.

Romney’s disclosure underscored the Republican presidential front-runner’s discomfort with talking about a key aspect of his biography — his money — and reignited the debate over whether his multimillionaire status makes it hard for him to relate to middle-class Americans.

Romney’s Democratic and Republican opponents alike pounced on his revelation by saying he has benefited from a basic unfairness in the tax structure. And as President Obama looked to Romney as his likely general-election opponent, the White House and its allies tried to stoke populist anger over income inequality by casting Romney as an out-of-touch multimillionaire.

Romney seemed to strike another clumsy note when he described his income from speakers’ fees — about $370,000 in a single year — as “not very much.”

Most Americans earn their income from wages and salaries, and the more they bring in, the higher their taxes are — up to 35 percent. Obama paid a rate of 26 percent on adjusted gross income of about $1.73 million in 2010, according to his tax return.

Most of Romney’s income, however, has come from capital gains, which include profits from the sale of stocks, bonds and real estate, and are taxed at a rate of 15 percent. Over the past 20 years, the wealthiest one-tenth of 1 percent of Americans have realized about half of all capital gains income — and received tax advantages criticized by billionaire Warren Buffett and Occupy Wall Street protesters alike.

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