CLINTON, Iowa -- Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan said Tuesday that he and running mate Mitt Romney would help more Americans find jobs so that they can pay taxes.
At a rally on the front lawn of a county courthouse, the Wisconsin Republican faced a question from a voter about why so many people don't pay federal income taxes. Romney recently was embarrassed when a secretly recorded video showed him telling donors that he would never win the votes of those Americans who don't pay federal income taxes. Democrats have been merciless in criticizing Romney for the remarks.
"We have 47 percent of the people in the United States pay no taxes, federal income taxes," the voter told Ryan. "Is there any way possible that this 47 percent can pay a nominal fee or something so that they feel that they have small ownership of the government and maybe they don't take all the handouts?"
Ryan said the answer was more jobs.
"I have an idea: Let's help them get jobs so they can get good paychecks and then they're good taxpayers," Ryan said, ignoring the fact that military members serving in war zones and seniors were among the millions who do not owe federal income taxes.
Ryan acknowledged, however, Romney's comments about the 47 percent muddled the political landscape.
"Sometimes the point doesn't get made the right way," Ryan said, but stood by the Romney campaign's standard rhetoric that the economy under President Barack Obama has been lousy and a GOP White House would fare better for workers.
Romney's campaign has suffered from the release of a hidden-camera video of Romney saying 47 percent of Americans see themselves as victims who depend on government help.
Last year, 46 percent of U.S. households paid no federal income tax, according to a study by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Most do pay other federal taxes, including Medicare and Social Security withholding. And they're not all poor. Some middle-income and wealthy families escape income tax because of deductions, credits and investment tax preferences.
As Ryan set out on a bus tour of eastern Iowa, he tried to keep the campaign focused on Washington's spending and the Romney-Ryan ticket's plan to reduce it.
"We have a culture here in the Midwest that says you live within your means, you save, you don't waste," Ryan said. "You make sure your leave your children and your grandchildren better off."
He cautioned that deficit spending was leaving America weaker.
"We have a debt crisis on our horizon. We know this," he told the crowd on a chilly autumn morning. "Our debt is getting so big, so fast that it's going to surpass the debt levels that they have in Europe."
That, he said, threatens U.S. national security.
"Forty-eight percent of our debt is owned by foreign governments, China number one," Ryan said. "For every dollar that our government spends today, 36 cents of that is being borrowed, and about half of that is from countries like China. This means we have to rely on foreign governments to lend us their money to finance our government. We can't keep doing this. We have to put this to an end. We have to stop this because we lose our sovereignty and our independence and our ability to chart our own future."