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Group that Heckled Romney “Puts Principle Before Party,” Questions Both Parties on Social Safety Net, Making Corporations Pay

By now the political world has heard about Mitt Romney’s statement to a group of hecklers at the Iowa State Fair yesterday. Explaining why he didn’t want to tax corporations to lower the deficit and pay for social insurance programs, Romney stated that “corporations are people, my friends.” This received the requisite amount of attention from partisans. But who initiated the exchange?

It turns out that the hecklers were a group of about a dozen members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI). They are a grassroots community organization that is part of a broader coalition called The New Bottom Line, which seeks to challenge big bank interests on behalf of everyday communities. And they have a message for members of both parties who visit Iowa during caucus season. I spoke with Dave Goodner, an Iowa CCI organizer who was part of the exchange yesterday.

Iowa CCI has about 3,300 members all over Iowa. Three-quarters of them are over the age of 65, and about 60% live in rural Iowa. “One of our biggest issues is Social Security and Medicare and making Wall Street pay for the financial crisis,” said Goodner. “We know where the money is. Not in the back pocket of a senior on Social Security. The money’s on Wall Street. It was their crisis and they should have to pay for it.”

In fact, the exchange with Romney started when an Iowa CCI member asked why shouldn’t we lift the payroll tax cap to bring long-term balance to Social Security. “The only position we have is no cuts, scrap the cap,” said Goodner.

Goodner acknowledged that the Supreme Court takes an attitude on corporations being people that is very similar to Mitt Romney. Goodner referenced a tweet by Ezra Klein, which said that Romney was right in the eyes of the law. “I don’t think the average Iowan is going to be sympathetic to that view,” Goodner added, however. “It shows how out of touch Romney is. From what he said, he stands on the side of big money corporations on Wall Street against everyday people.” Similarly, George Goehl, the Director of National People’s Action, a leader in the New Bottom Line project, said in a statement, “The corporations Mr. Romney believes are filling people’s pockets are the ones who crashed our economy and hijacked our democracy.”

Goodner and his group were not pleased with Romney’s full answer, where he touted so-called “progressive price indexing” (which would have to cut benefits well into the middle class to generate any savings) and raising the retirement age. “He’s talking about benefit cuts that are going to hurt seniors, the elderly, the poor and the disabled,” said Goodner. “And ask for nothing from the wealthiest Americans, and the companies on Wall Street.”

This sounds similar to what President Obama has been saying recently in support of a balanced deficit solution. But Iowa CCI isn’t exactly enthralled with his performance of late either. “Our members are very upset and angry at Obama,” Goodner said. “He was the one who put Social Security and Medicare on the table. We delivered a letter to his campaign office in Des Moines, telling him to back off, to take this off the table.” As it turns out, Obama will be in Peosta, Iowa next week, as part of a Rural Economic Forum. Iowa CCI has members there, but it’s not a public town hall meeting, so they are still strategizing about how to reach the President with their message. In the meantime, they are speaking to their representatives in Iowa (all of whom, Democratic or Republican, voted against the debt limit bill), or any other Democratic representatives, telling them to deliver their message to the President. It turns out that DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is at the Iowa State Fair today, so we’ll see if anything transpires.

And they are adamant on this point. “Anytime a candidate or the President comes to Iowa, we’re going to bird-dog them,” Goodner said. “We put principles above party. They’re all going to hear from us.”

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David Dayen

David Dayen