EMPTY GESTURE

02.25.12

Michael Tomasky on Mitt Romney’s Tax-Plan Flim-Flam

Romney fittingly released his tax plan in a nearly empty stadium on Friday. While his proposal isn’t as radical as those of his rivals, its assumptions are just as ridiculous.

Well, it was about perfect, wasn’t it, that Mitt Romney gave his big economic speech before about 1,200 supporters in a 65,000-seat football stadium? Whether the stadium or the speech was emptier is the obvious question of the moment. Pathetic as the pictures of the event were, I’d have to hand the trophy to the speech. Some of Romney’s specifics weren’t as far out there as those of his opponents. His proposed individual marginal tax rates, for example, are radical, but not as radical as those announced by the remaining three other Republican candidates. But his plan is even worse than theirs are in a way that we’ve come to know as typically Romneyesque. He is desperately eager to please the right wing and also to try to seem like the responsible one, but there is no way to do both of things without lying.

First, though, let’s discuss that venue. So a hotel ballroom was oversubscribed. Okay, I know Detroit has been down on its luck for the better part of 40 years, but even so I find it pretty difficult to believe that there is not a venue in the whole metropolitan area that has a capacity somewhere in between the Westin Book Cadillac ballroom’s 1,000 or whatever and Ford Field’s 65,000 (for football; 80,000 for wrestling). The University of Detroit’s basketball teams, for example, must play somewhere. Reports indicate that the Economic Club of Detroit, not the campaign, made the switch. But someone at the campaign said, “Gee, okay!” It’s not a catastrophe, but it is staggeringly stupid. Imagine the field day the right-wing agitprop machine would have had in 2008 with Barack Obama doing something like that. Indeed remember the sport they made of the mere fact of Obama giving a speech in a football stadium, even after he did in fact fill it.

But the deception involved in trying to make 1,200 supporters seem like 80,000 is nothing next to the deception of the plan itself. Romney would lower all six current individual tax brackets by 20 percent. That’s not as drastic as his opponents’ plans. Newt Gingrich, for example, would let any taxpayer choose between paying under the current regime or just paying a 15 percent flat tax. Rick Santorum would have most taxpayers paying just 10 percent. So this is the Romney-the-Reasonable part of the plan. Sticking with six brackets is supposedly meant to signal that he believes in a little stability and is not a loon.

Reducing those rates, of course—along with the reduction of the corporate rate from 35 percent to 25 percent; along with massively increasing Pentagon spending—will reduce revenue. And here’s the catch, via The Wall Street Journal’s write-up. Romney “said Wednesday that as president, he would direct Congress to make up lost revenue from the rate cuts by limiting deductions, mostly for wealthier Americans. Mr. Romney and his aides didn't say which deductions would be targeted.”

Ah! There it is. Deductions? We’ll figure those out later. Listen, I have a new fiscal plan for the Tomasky household that I am announcing today. I’m going to go half-time at the Beast and quit doing all my other work, thereby reducing my income by well more than half. But circumstances dictate that I also need to buy a new car, and a nice car, a Lexus, because this household needs a husband/father who isn’t ashamed to be a Tomasky and is prepared for the future because the roads can get awfully dangerous out there in Montgomery County. How will I pay for it, you ask? Well, first of all, you’re a freedom-hater for even asking the question, and second, I’ll simply cut all other household spending to the bone. I’ll end up revenue neutral, I swear.

Rather than tell a balls-out, red-meat lie, Romney tells a squishy and weasely lie. And that, my friends, is Romney to the core.

Romney’s plan is literally about that serious. He won’t announce which deductions because it’s really hard to go after deductions, and because there is probably not enough money there anyway to make up for the lost revenue. But trust him, it’ll all work out.

And here’s a curious thing. Romney commits a grave error, from the right-wing point of view, in even acknowledging that there is lost revenue. If he’d gone to the Mitch McConnell School of Economics he’d know that cutting tax rates increases revenue. So the really interesting question here is: Why does Romney even bother to acknowledge that there will be lost revenue that will need to be made up?

He acknowledges it because some small but quickly vaporizing part of the man still retains some attenuated grasp of fiscal reality. So rather than tell the balls-out, red-meat lie that reduced rates will raise more revenue, he tells the squishy and weasely lie that he’ll take care of the imbalance at a future unspecified date in some future unspecified way. And that, my friends, is Romney to the core. He thinks he can finesse everything, that he’s much cleverer than he is, that somehow people won’t notice. But no one’s buying his line about the bailout. It’s patent nonsense, and Steve Rattner just demolished it on the Times op-ed page today. Romney also looks a little graceless, by the way, saying that he drives the Mustang and the GM pickup, while his wife drives the Cadillacs, plural. The way he added that after a pause, it reminded me of John McCain not remembering how many houses he owned. But Romney remembers. He just thinks he can bluff it.

He makes me really wonder about the private sector in this country. Did he earn all those millions behaving this way, telling people what they wanted to hear, then maybe doing something else entirely, then saying to them that that was his plan all along, then jovially throwing a colleague under the bus? Don’t answer that question.