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October 22, 2012 / Joshua

Debaters Gonna Debate

President Obama seemed to have peeked at my blog prior to the second Presidential Debate last week (because that’s totally within the realm of likely possibility, right?). To wit, in the previous post, I called Mitt Romney a “sketchy salesman.” In the debate, the president rejected Romney’s tax plan as a “sketchy deal.” I wrote about Romney’s contradiction in calling the debt/deficit a moral issue for the next generation while failing to consider any tax increases today. And the president made just such a moral case for a combination of spending cuts and tax increases:

But what I’ve also said is if we’re serious about reducing the deficit, if this is genuinely a moral obligation to the next generation, then in addition to some tough spending cuts, we’ve also got to make sure that the wealthy do a little bit more.

As for Romney, in both debates, but particularly in the second one, he has come off as remarkably childish over “the rules” as he sees them. He can’t let little things go and just has to get the last word if Obama got the first answer, to the point that he often tries to stop the moderator and tell him/her how the debate should go. In this debate, he even momentarily turned away from an audience questioner to rebut one of Obama’s answers to the previous question. And a bit later on, he shifted gears in a question about immigration to randomly go way back to the topic of Chinese investments.

The point of that shift in topic was to do the other perplexing thing Romney was fond of doing that night: getting in Obama’s face over petty matters, like his pension, or cherry-picked numbers on oil drilling permits, or pointless word games on the Libya consulate attack, e.g., did the president call it “terror” or not?

None of these confrontations went over well for Romney, it seemed to me, and the back and forth over Libya blew up in his face completely, when moderator Candy Crowley fact-checked him on the spot. But let’s move on to once again talk Romney’s tax plan.

President Obama pressed Romney even harder this time on the missing math of his plan. The only tax cut offsetting idea Romney offered, by way of “pick a number,” was a $25,000 cap on deductions. That might be a fine idea in and of itself for tax reform, but alone wouldn’t quite do enough to cut the revenue hole Romney would create.

Candy Crowley gave Romney some wiggle room by asking if he’d reconsider the 20% tax rate cut if the numbers proved to really not add up. And this is how Romney responded:

Well, of course they add up. I was — I was someone who ran businesses for 25 years and balanced the budget. I ran the Olympics and balanced the budget. I ran the — the state of Massachusetts as a governor, to the extent any governor does, and balanced the budget all four years.

[…]

I know what it takes to balance budgets. I’ve done it my entire life.

And so it went for much of the debate: Romney repeatedly asserting he could do most anything simply because “I know what it takes” or “I know how to make that happen” or “I know why.” These are all apparently unique trade secrets for Romney, since he doesn’t bother to tell us exactly what or how or why in any satisfying way.

The tax plan discussion especially irritates me. The way the Romney team has played it has given us a very low bar discussion of theoretically possible math. And, to this day, the Romney campaign hasn’t sufficiently cleared that low bar. The “studies” they cite in support of their plan don’t conclusively solve the problem, and, in order to even come close, depend on dubious assumptions about tax cut-driven economic growth, or assume things could be on the table that contradict Romney’s promises; e.g, an increase in taxes on incomes of $100,000 or more, though Romney insists he wouldn’t support such a plan.

What’s more, nowhere does this discussion leave the world of perfect assumptions and enter the world of political plausibility. Even if you come close to making the math work by putting all kinds of popular deductions and exemptions on the table, how likely is it that those deductions will truly get the axe, particularly those for high incomes? And, assuming there’s something to the “tax cuts bring economic growth” argument, how much growth can really arise from a non-tax cut tax cut. That is, wouldn’t revenue neutrality just offset the supposed stimulative effects of tax rate cuts? Or what about the potential negative or otherwise distortive economic effects of closing or limiting certain deductions? Why is no one talking about that?

It’s all so shady. For years, Republicans have been telling us that we can’t increase taxes in any way on upper incomes, even those at $200,000 or more, because they are “job creators,” and the economy will suffer as a result. Yet, now Mitt Romney wants us to believe he’s going to eliminate/limit tax deductions mainly for upper incomes and still get all those supposed growth benefits?

Romney’s simply not being truthful with us about how much his plan will benefit the richest (or about much of anything for that matter), and, ergo, who will actually pay more to make the math work. Consider the sleight of hand: he’s careful to say the wealthy will pay the same share of taxes that they do now. He wants us to conclude that the wealthiest won’t pay a lower dollar amount, but the word “share” is key and different than amount of taxes. Here he is in the second debate:

The top 5 percent of taxpayers will continue to pay 60 percent of the income tax the nation collects. So that’ll stay the same. Middle-income people are going to get a tax break. …I’m not looking to cut taxes for wealthy people. I am looking to cut taxes for middle-income people.

But, see, that is a tax cut for the wealthy, right? If the middle are to pay less in taxes, and the wealthy were to actually still pay the same amount that they do currently, they would then be paying a higher percent of the total tax take, or a larger share, if you like. Romney’s phrasing, however, suggests that the taxes of the top 5% will in fact come down with everyone else’s (thus keeping the share of income taxes the same).

Not only does this suggest that Mitt Romney thinks we are all too stupid to figure that out, it suggests he doesn’t even intend to make his plan revenue neutral on the tax side after all, at least not by making sure the wealthy are not getting a tax cut. And this doesn’t even begin to take into account the other upper income favoring tax cuts Romney has in mind (eliminating the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax, for example). I guess this means he is in fact hoping for the mythic tax cut-fueled economic growth to close the gap. But we’ve been fooled by that illusion before. Let’s not fall for it again.

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4 Comments

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  1. Anthony "The Raven" Alexander" / Oct 26 2012 6:56 pm

    Hey Josh, it’s your weird pal from high school, Anthony. (bows) I noticed you had fallen off the Facebook map, and since I forgot to give you my number when I saw you in Publix a while back, so I thought I’d look you up here. Your blog is awesome and I miss getting the updates, so I’m adding this to my favorites list. Drop me a line sometime.

    • Joshua / Nov 1 2012 6:49 am

      Hey Anthony! Great to hear from you. I did indeed leave facebook, so I’m glad you were able to track me down here. Thanks for reading and adding. Feel free to drop me a line anytime. How’s everything going?

      • Anthony "The Raven" Alexander" / Nov 5 2012 7:55 pm

        Things are going, as always. Hey, I’m sure I’m just over-looking it, but how does one leave you a private message on here?

      • Joshua / Nov 5 2012 11:05 pm

        No, I don’t believe so, but you can email me by clicking here if you like.

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