In their first joint television interview, presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and running mate Rep. Paul Ryan were forced to address the issue of taxes, both in whether they'd be releasing more of their own tax returns and how they would tax the wealthiest Americans if elected.
In one especially awkward moment, Ryan jumped in to clarify Romney's desire to reduce the rates of every taxpayer by eliminating tax shelters. Romney, a wealthy businessman, is reported to have had, at least at one point, multiple offshore accounts, including in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands.
"What we're saying is, take away the tax shelters ... that are uniquely enjoyed by people in the top tax brackets so they can't shelter as much money from taxation, which would lower tax rates for everybody to make America more competitive," Ryan told CBS News' Bob Schieffer.
Romney insisted he and Ryan, the architect of the controversial House Republican budget, will run on the Romney budget plan. When pressed to answer whether under his plan the rich would "pay their fair share," Romney said that he would reduce taxes for middle-income earners while making sure "the highest income people ... pay the greatest share of taxes." It's unclear whether he meant that current rates should remain the same.
Taxes are scheduled to increase for all Americans Jan. 1, when the Bush-era tax cuts extended in 2010 by President Barack Obama are set to expire. However, Congress is expected to address whether to extend all or some of those rates after the elections.
"Well, fairness dictates that the highest income people should pay the greatest share of taxes - and they do - and the commitment that I made is that we will not have the top income earners pay a smaller share of the tax burden," Romney said. "The highest income people will continue to pay the largest share of the tax burden and middle-income taxpayers, under my plan, get a break. Their taxes come down."
When asked whether the top earners have a high enough tax rate, Romney said, "it depends on the individual and what their source of income is."
Democrats have been calling for Romney to release more years of tax returns. To date, the former Massachusetts governor has released only two years of his records. More years of returns, for example, might provide answers on the nature of Romney's assets.
Ryan was asked about how many years of his tax returns were reviewed before he was selected and how many he would release publicly.
"It was a very exhaustive vetting process. It's a confidential vetting process, so there were several years. But I'm going to release the same amount of years that Gov. Romney has," Ryan said. "I'm going to be releasing two [years], which is what he's releasing."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.