Simon Rosenberg of the New Democrat Network has noticed something interesting. He went through Mitt Romney’s campaign website to see what tax loopholes Romney plans to close. He couldn't find references to a single one—not on the issue page that summarizes his plan for tax reform and not on the more detailed fifteen-page summary available via hyperlink.
The omission tells us a lot. As you probably know by now, Romney has proposed a tax cut that would cost about $5 trillion in lost revenue. Romney says he’ll offset the cut by closing loopholes, in a way that would neither increase the deficit nor raise taxes on the middle class. But he won't specify which loopholes, perhaps because, according to multiple independent analyses, the math couldn't plausibly work as he says it would.
You may have heard that changed last week, because of an interview that Romney gave to a Colorado television station. That's incorrect.
During that interview, according to the Wall Street Journal, Romney suggested he might try imposing a cap on itemized deductions. But that wouldn't change the math: The three promises would remain incompatible with one another. Besides, according to the Journal account (the only one I can find), Romney wouldn't even commit to that idea. He said simply that it was one example of what he might do. That doesn't really tell us anything.
The question isn't what Romney could do. It's what he would do.
Pinning Romney down on this, alas, has been difficult. Obama tried during Wednesday’s debate. But he did so in long-winded, complicated way that I imagine very few viewers understood. Afterwards, I suggested Obama should have put the question directly to Gov. Romney, in clearer and more succinct terms:
OK, governor, you say you can offset the $5 trillion cost of your tax plan. Tell us how, with real numbers. Are you getting rid of the home mortgage deduction? The exclusion for health insurance? Be straight with the American people about what you are proposing.
Or maybe even that's too complicated. Maybe what Obama needs is a simple, instantly recognizable phrase. Like this one.
Show me the money, governor. Show me the money.
Update: I changed "possibly work" to "plausibly work." That seems more accurate.
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