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Sen. Dean Heller has joined the parade of Republicans rejecting GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s caught-on-hidden-camera comments suggesting the 47 percent of Americans supporting President Barack Obama are government dependents.
Romney also implied it’s not his job to worry about those Americans.
“I don’t agree with the comments that he made. I just don’t have that view of the world,” Heller told reporters Wednesday in the Capitol.
Although Heller distanced himself from Romney’s comments, Democrats spent the day trying to tie Heller to the sentiment behind the remarks.
“Mitt Romney and Dean Heller are reading from the same script when it comes to struggling middle-class families,” Heller’s Senate rival, Shelley Berkley, said in a statement. “Mitt Romney says they lack ‘personal responsibility’ and Dean Heller refers to them as ‘hobos.’”
Sen. Harry Reid echoed Berkley on Wednesday afternoon.
“We have a long line of people who are running from Romney as if the Olympics are still on,” Reid told reporters. “I’m told that Dean Heller is running, but Dean’s gotta be very careful. ... I think he recognized how toxic Romney’s comments are, but that’s interesting coming from someone who just a short time ago compared the unemployed people to hobos.”
Heller never directly referred to jobless Nevadans as “hobos,” but in a speech two years ago, he questioned whether extended unemployment benefits might create a new class of hobos for the first time since the Great Depression.
Heller hasn’t repeated that line since 2010. But in that 2010 speech, he did say he believes in a government support system. He echoed that statement Wednesday.
“You gotta understand my background. I have five brothers and sisters. My dad was an auto mechanic. My mom was a school cafeteria cook,” he said. “So I have a very different view of the world [than Romney]. I do believe that the federal government has certain responsibilities. One of the responsibilities is building bridges and roads and national defense, but I also believe in a safety net for individuals who need the help, so that’s why I would respectfully disagree with the comments that (Romney) made.”
But Heller didn’t completely run from Romney. When asked if the leaked video might damage the credibility of Republicans in Nevada — including himself — Heller was quick to deflect.
“I don’t think that’s the discussion,” he said of Romney’s comments. “The discussion today is Obama’s comments on redistribution of wealth. That’s what everybody’s talking about: If I work hard, if I work hard in this country, will I be rewarded? And this president says, 'No, you’re not going to be rewarded; you’re going to have to give that to somebody else' — that’s the issue; that’s what everybody’s talking about in Nevada.”
Heller wouldn’t say whether he agreed with Romney’s contention that 47 percent of Americans aren’t paying federal income taxes.
But Heller’s Republican colleague in the House, Rep. Joe Heck, waded into that debate.
“It is not about making some pay more, it’s about making more pay some,” Heck, a Romney campaign co-chair for Nevada, said in a statement Tuesday. “Every American benefits from the man or woman in uniform standing a post somewhere around the globe keeping us safe, and I believe every American wants to be supportive.
“Unfortunately, under this president’s administration and its failed economic policies, fewer Americans have the opportunity to be supportive."
But Democrats are asking how Republicans would go about increasing the tax contributions of the 47 percent.
“Whose taxes would Mitt Romney raise?” Reid asked on the Senate floor, rattling off people who would be hard-pressed to see their taxes go up — students, Social Security recipients, people with disabilities, veterans and active members of the military.
“The 47 percent are ordinary, hard-working Americans who deserve respect,” Reid said. “They’re not avoiding their tax bills using Cayman Island tax shelters or Swiss bank accounts.”
On Wednesday, Heller tried another tack to redirect the conversation — and give Romney a small bit of campaign advice.
“The issue is creating jobs. I mean, this is about jobs and the economy,” Heller said. “I’m hoping at the end of the day that that becomes Romney’s message, which I do believe it will be.”