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, offering a defense of Romney's remark that nearly half the country doesn't pay federal income taxes and supports President Barack Obama.
"I have an idea: Let's help them get jobs so they can get good paychecks and then they're good taxpayers," Ryan said.
Yet employment doesn't appear to be a problem for most of those Romney cited. Polling shows that 62 percent of Obama supporters work full-time, 10 percent work part-time, and 25 percent are retired while about 5 percent are unemployed. The Tax Policy Center reports that half of Americans who pay no federal incomes taxes have incomes too low while the Congressional Research Service says that 3 in 10 of nonpayers are 65 and up.
Ryan campaigned in three Iowa towns on the eve of the first presidential debate. During a rally on the front lawn of the Clinton County courthouse, a voter asked the Wisconsin congressman why so many people don't pay federal income taxes. Romney was secretly recorded telling big-dollar donors in May that 47 percent of Americans don't pay income tax and are dependent on the government.
"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?" the voter asked.
Ryan said the answer was more jobs. He acknowledged, however, that Romney's comments about the 47 percent muddled the political landscape.
"Sometimes the point doesn't get made the right way," he said.
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."
In Burlington, Ryan criticized Vice President Joe Biden for saying that the middle class "has been buried the last four years."
"We agree," Ryan said. "That means we need to stop digging by electing Mitt Romney the next president of the United States."
Associated Press writer David Pitt in Burlington, Iowa, contributed to this report.