SALT LAKE CITY -- President Barack Obama declared Tuesday night the occupant of the Oval Office must "work for everyone, not just for some," jabbing back at Mitt Romney's jarring statement that as a candidate, he doesn't worry about the 47 percent of the country that pays no income taxes.
Romney neither disavowed nor apologized for his remarks, which included an observation that nearly half of the country believe they are victims and entitled to a range of government support. Instead, Romney cast his comment as evidence of a fundamental difference with Obama over the economy, adding the federal government should not "take from some to give to the others."
As the rivals sparred with seven weeks remaining in a close race for the White House, two GOP Senate candidates publicly disavowed Romney's remarks and Republican officials openly debated the impact that a series of controversies would have on the party's prospects of winning the presidency.
Top Republicans in Congress declined through aides to offer their reaction to Romney's remarks - just as they generally refrained from commenting a week ago when he issued a statement that inaccurately accused the Obama administration of giving comfort to demonstrators after they breached the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.
The most recent controversy in a campaign filled with them was ignited by the emergence of a videotape, made last May, in which Romney told donors at a fundraiser that 47 percent of Americans pay no income taxes. They "believe the government has a responsibility to care for them ... believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that's an entitlement."
He said, "I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
In a next-day interview on Fox, the network of choice for conservatives, Romney said he didn't intend to write off any part of a deeply divided electorate, including seniors who are among those who often pay no taxes. Instead, he repeatedly sought to reframe his remarks as a philosophical difference of opinion between himself and Obama.
"I'm not going to get" votes from Americans who believe government's job is to redistribute wealth," he said, adding that was something Obama believes in.
He also said he wants to be president so he can help hard-pressed Americans find work and earn enough so they become income taxpayers.
Romney didn't say so, but the U.S. income tax is designed to be progressive, so those who earn the most theoretically pay the most. Through programs as diverse as Social Security, Medicare, health care and food stamps, the government collects tax revenue and pays it out in the form of benefits for those who qualify.
Obama responded during an appearance on the David Letterman show.
"One thing I've learned as president is that you represent the entire country," he said. As for Romney's statement about the 47 percent, he said, "There are not a lot of people out there who think they are victims" or simply entitled.