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Updated: Perry Questioned on Polls, "Birther" Issue

At a press conference hours after releasing his tax and spending plan, Rick Perry faced questions about his low poll numbers and his comments on Barack Obama's birth certificate.

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Updated: 3 p.m. 10/25/11

At a press conference at the South Carolina Statehouse this afternoon, Rick Perry answered questions on the tax and spending plan he unveiled this morning — and batted away questions about President Obama's birth certificate and his poor polling numbers.

After meeting with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Tea Party Sen. Jim DeMint, Perry told reporters that he wasn't concerned about critics' suggestion that the wealthy would benefit most from his flat tax proposal.  

"If folks who have money are going to be creating those jobs, I don’t have a problem in the world with that," he said, looking out over a crowd that included dozens of Occupy Wall Street protesters wriggling their fingers in the air.

Asked how he expected a flat tax to pass Congress now, when Steve Forbes couldn't get any traction on it 15 years ago, Perry chuckled: "There's a lot that's changed since 1996." 

When asked to compare his plan to Herman Cain's or Mitt Romney's, Perry said his proposal doesn't have a national sales tax, and that Americans "do not trust Washington, D.C." to have a "new form of taxation."

Perry wasn't so self-assured when faced with questions about his comment on Obama's birth certificate on a cable talk show this morning. When asked if he thought Obama's U.S. birth certificate was real, Perry wouldn't say yes or no.

"That is one of the biggest distractions there is going," he said. "Somebody wants to see my birth certificate, I'm happy to show it to them. The fact is that is a distraction."

When a reporter brought up his piddling poll numbers, Perry made a series of college football analogies, and said he wouldn't "quit at halftime."

"It’s a long time till this campaign is over with," he said. 

Original story: 

GRAY COURT, S.C. — Gov. Rick Perry, struggling in the polls as he pursues the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, released a tax and spending reform plan today aimed at luring away business-minded voters from Mitt Romney and Tea Party fiscal conservatives from Herman Cain — and convincing a skeptical public that he’s got the policy chops to be a serious contender against President Obama.

At a plastics plant in rural South Carolina, on the same morning a new New York Times/CBS News presidential poll put him in fifth place with just 6 percent of the vote, Perry formally unveiled his much-anticipated “Cut, Balance and Grow” plan with its linchpin, an optional flat tax of 20 percent that Americans could choose over the current progressive income tax system.

“Taxes will be cut across all income groups in America,” Perry said. “…It’s the kind of economic stimulus that President Obama could’ve achieved if he wasn’t so hell bent on passing big government schemes.”

Perry’s tax proposal, which he says would allow “Americans to file their taxes on a postcard,” would maintain exemptions for families earning under $500,000 a year, and increase the standard deduction to $12,500 per person. It would abolish the estate tax, the capital gains tax and end the tax on Social Security benefits. And it would lower taxes for businesses — designed, Perry said, to give them the confidence and the resources to create more jobs and contribute to economic growth — while eliminating corporate loopholes.

It would also have to be approved by Congress, which economists and political analysts say is unlikely, given the reality that flat taxes tend to hit the middle class hardest and the rejection of previous, similar tax proposals.

(Watch video of Perry's speech below, provided by Politico.)

“In the past, the virtue of the seeming simplicity of a common tax rate for all has met formidable resistance when the burdens of such a plan are estimated,” said Rice University political science professor Paul Brace.

For Perry, the flat tax and spending plan is an opportunity to create headlines about something other than his poor debate performances or scrutiny over the former name of his family's hunting camp. Even so, he managed to step on his message today when he said in a new interview that questioning Obama's birthplace — the so-called "birther" issue — "is a good issue to keep alive."

Perry’s spending plan calls for balancing the federal budget within eight years. His proposal would cap spending at 18 percent of the gross domestic product, freeze federal civilian hiring and salaries, and ban earmarks and any future bailouts. He also called for raising the eligibility age for both Medicare and Social Security to save money.

“America is under a crushing burden of debt. And the president simply offers larger deficits and the politics of class warfare,” Perry said.

On the subject of Social Security, Perry laid out an initiative that would let young Americans establish personal retirement accounts for their contributions, and allow local and state governments to opt out of the federal program in lieu of their own, citing examples in Texas. And he suggested Medicare reforms such as giving patients greater flexibility to choose coverage levels, and better tackling waste and fraud.

Republican strategists have called Perry’s plan a shrewd political move, one that could draw tax reform enthusiasts away from Cain’s 9-9-9 plan, and provide an easy-to-understand alternative to Romney’s 59-point economic plan. (In his speech, Perry took a veiled jab at these other candidates, suggesting they were hawking “microwave plans with warmed over ingredients.”) And he has inspired confidence by designing his plan with the guidance of publishing magnate Steve Forbes, who ran for president in 1996 and 2000 on a flat tax platform.

“It is time to pass a tax that is flat and fair,” Perry said, “and that frees our employers and our people to invest and grown and prosper.”

But opponents suggest the cuts under his plan would be staggering — and borderline impossible to get through Congress. 

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