Not Adding Up

08.03.12

Romney's Tax Plan: One or the Other

This is simple: Either Mitt Romney's tax plan raises taxes on middle-class people, or, if it doesn't do that, it explodes the deficit. It's one or the other.

The numbers don't add up. The size of the cuts he wants to give to the rich are larger than the amount that same group takes in loopholes and other so-called tax expenditures. So the amount of money he's giving away to the wealthy can't be made up just by eliminating tax expenditures they take advantage of, so it has to be made up by eliminating tax expenditures middle-class peope take advantage of.

That means that while yes, on paper, he will give a middle-income person roughly $1,500 in a tax cut with one hand by lowering that taxpayer's basic rate, he will with the other hand be eliminating certain deductions that person takes, which will more than offset the $1,500. That's the only way to make the math work.

And if he doesn't do all that, then the plan won't be bringing in any revenue to speak of, and the deficit will explode. The plan, like the candidate, is hollow. Ezra Klein has a nice rundown of the nine problems with the plan here, one of which is that he's also not going to get very far impugning the objectivity of the Tax Policy Center, which did the study, since it's headed by a former George W. Bush staffer and since his own campaign praised the TPC as neutral and objective last year.

The core problem here, as with that ridiculous plan to save the middle-class I wrote about yesterday, is that Romney's campaign releases very few details about these things. Look at how detailed both Obama's and McCain's health proposals were in 2008. Loads of specifics, more from Obama, but really from both.

Now look at Romney's roughly four-page tax statement (give or take) from his web site. There's a lot of verbiage, but extremely few specifics.

You can do that in a GOP primary, where no one cares about the specifics anyway. You cannot do it, much, in a Democratic presidential primary. There's a reason for this. Democratic interest groups include dozens that care passionately about every aspect of domestic policy. But on the Republican side, you don't have think tanks and nonprofits that care deeply about health policy, environmental policy, housing, poverty, and on and on and on. That whole infrastructure of interest groups doesn't exist on the Republican side, where the position is much simpler: lower taxes, decrease regulations, and cut these programs.

That's not to say there are no wonks on the conservative side, but there are like 200 compared to 5,000 on the liberal side. There's a reason this guy Stuart Butler of Heritage (one of the inventors of the individual mandate) gets invited to represent the conservative point of view on so many domestic policy panels around town. He's just about the only guy they've got.

It creates a milieu in which Republicans don't have to be specific. They have to press certain conservative buttons. And this, incidentally, is why their crap never adds up when they do take office. Bush promised lower taxes, lower deficits, greater prosperity. We got only the first. It ain't no accident, pueblos.