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More Mitt Malarkey

Romney repeats misleading claims about McCain's stand on immigration and his own record on taxes.


Romney’s latest ad attacks McCain in New Hampshire with false and misleading claims:

  • It claims McCain “voted to allow illegals to collect Social Security.” That’s untrue. Nobody who is in the country illegally could be paid any Social Security benefits under McCain’s immigration bill.
  • It implies McCain supported “amnesty” for illegal immigrants. That word isn’t accurate. Illegal immigrants wouldn’t have received a blanket pardon under McCain’s bill. Instead, they would have had to pay thousands in penalties and fees to gain legal status. In fact, in 2005 Romney called McCain’s proposal “reasonable” and said it wasn’t amnesty.
  • The ad says Romney “cut taxes” in Massachusetts. While he did cut some taxes – for example, enacting business tax credits – tax rates remained unchanged. Plus, Romney raised state revenues by hundreds of millions of dollars per year by increasing fees and closing corporate tax loopholes.


Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney announced his ad attacking Arizona Sen. John McCain Dec. 28. It is set to run in New Hampshire, where the two face each other in the Republican presidential primary scheduled for Jan. 8.

Romney for President Ad: “Future”

Romney: I’m Mitt Romney and I approved this message.

Announcer: John McCain, an honorable man. But is he the right Republican for the future?
McCain opposes repeal of the death tax, and voted against the Bush tax cuts twice.
McCain pushed to let every illegal immigrant stay here permanently.
Even voted to allow illegals to collect Social Security.
And Mitt Romney? Mitt Romney cut taxes and spending as governor.
He opposes amnesty for illegals.
Mitt Romney. John McCain. There is a difference.

Social Security for Illegal Aliens

In contrasting supposed differences between the two men, the ad’s announcer falsely states that McCain “voted to allow illegals to collect Social Security.” This tired and misleading claim was used by several Republicans against Democrats in the 2006 elections. We debunked it then, and it is no more true now that it is being used to attack a Republican.

The claim is based on the immigration bill that McCain cosponsored in 2005 and 2006. The bill died, but as we said before, the measure did not propose to pay Social Security benefits to illegal immigrants, not until and unless they become U.S. citizens or are granted legal status. Under current law, illegal immigrants who work and pay Social Security taxes may later receive credit toward future benefits for the amounts they have paid, if they become legal residents or citizens. The McCain measure wouldn’t have changed that.
During the immigration fight Republicans proposed an amendment that would have prevented anyone who became a legal immigrant under the McCain bill from receiving credit toward future Social Security benefits  for the taxes they paid and the time they had worked while in the U.S. without legal permission. McCain was one of 11 Republicans who voted to kill that amendment.
Thus, the statement that McCain “voted to allow illegals to collect Social Security” is false. Nobody proposed to pay benefits to anyone who is in the U.S. illegally. To be accurate, the ad might have said that McCain “voted against a measure that would have denied illegal immigrants Social Security credit for their work once they gain legal status.” But such a truthful statement might not strike New Hampshire voters as so damaging.
“Amnesty” Again
The Romney ad also misleads by using the inaccurate and emotionally laden term “amnesty” to describe what the immigration bill would have offered illegal immigrants. As we’ve said any number of times, the dictionary definition of “amnesty” is a pardon for past offenses, and the McCain bill did not offer a simple pardon. Rather, it would have imposed thousands of dollars in penalties and fees on any illegal immigrant wishing to gain legal status.
The ad’s wording is technically accurate on this score. It says, “He [Romney] opposes amnesty for illegals.” What’s misleading is the suggestion that McCain embraces “amnesty,” when he doesn’t. Romney’s ad might truthfully have said he currently takes a tougher line on illegal immigrants than does McCain, but characterizing his opponent as favoring “amnesty” isn’t accurate.

Also, while the former governor has hardened his stance on immigration, it’s worth noting that he once called the legislation for which he now attacks McCain a “reasonable” proposal. In a 2005 interview with the Boston Globe after McCain’s bill was introduced, Romney also said he didn’t believe the legislation granted “amnesty.”

Boston Globe (March 2007): In a November 2005 interview with the Globe, Romney described immigration proposals by McCain and others as “quite different” from amnesty, because they required illegal immigrants to register with the government, work for years, pay taxes, not take public benefits, and pay a fine before applying for citizenship.

McCain’s Position

McCain issued a response to the Romney attack, alluding to the somewhat tougher stand on immigration that the senator has embraced since the defeat of his immigration plans. He said he now favors securing U.S. borders and instituting a “temporary worker program” before attempting to deal “comprehensively” with immigrants currently in the U.S. illegally.

John McCain: I’m familiar with tailspins and I think he’s [Romney is] in one. Look, on the issue of immigration, my position is clear: We have to secure the borders, the borders have to be secured first. As president I would have the governors in the border states certify that the borders are secure. We learned a lesson and the message is they want the borders secured first. Then we go on to a temporary worker program and addressing the issue comprehensively.

A Misleading Claim About Taxes

We also find the ad’s claim that “Romney cut taxes” to be misleading. It is true that Romney proposed some income tax cuts that the Democratic-controlled Massachusetts Legislature rejected. And he did succeed in cutting some taxes – for example, he enacted property tax relief for seniors and approved business tax credits – but overall tax rates remained the same. The conservative Club for Growth said his term included “some solid efforts” but that “overall, Romney’s record on tax policy is mixed.” Indeed, he increased state revenues significantly.

Technically, Romney’s often-repeated boast that he didn’t raise taxes is true, but it’s also misleading, as we discussed in our critique of the second Republican presidential debate back in May. In 2003, to help close a big budget gap, he pushed through a number of increased state fees that brought in $400 million in their first year. For example, he doubled fees for marriage licenses and other court filings. He also quintupled the per gallon delivery fee for gasoline (money that is supposed to be for cleaning up any leaks from underground fuel tanks).

Romney also “closed loopholes” in the corporate tax structure, a move that generated another $150 million in increased revenue. Romney also shifted some of the state tax burden down to the local level, by cutting local aid revenues. The Massachusetts Municipal Association, representing the state’s cities and towns, said Romney’s cut “forced communities statewide to cut services and raise local taxes and fees.” The exact amount of the local increases hasn’t been determined, but Romney at least partly avoided increasing state taxes by forcing Massachusetts cities and towns to raise theirs.

– by Brooks Jackson, with Lori Robertson


S. 2611, 109th U.S. Congress, 2nd Session.

U.S. Senate, 109th Congress, 2nd Session. Vote No. 130.

S. 1639, 110th U.S. Congress.

Helman, Scott. “Romney’s words grow hard on immigration.” Boston Globe. 16 Mar. 2007.

Bovbjerg, Randall R. State Responses to Budget Crises in 2004: Massachusetts. 1 Feb. 2004.

The Urban Institute. 16 May 2007. Cardozo, Carol L., et al. State Budget ’04: The Long Road Back. 1 Jan. 2004.

The Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation. 16 May 2007.