Election 2012

The Last Time Mitt Romney Had a Secret Plan, It Turned Out to be the Individual Mandate


Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan say they have a plan to reform and simplify the tax system by closing loopholes. They just don't want to tell you what it is: As Jacob Sullum noted earlier today, the best that Romney could do when asked to name just one of the tax deductions he'd eliminate was to say that "people at the high end, high-income taxpayers, are going to have fewer deductions and exemptions." Asked a similar question by ABC's George Stephanopolous over the weekend, Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, proved equally evasive. To which Stephanopolous responded, "Isn't that a secret plan?" Ryan insisted that it isn't. 

It wouldn't be out of character, however, for Romney to be selling a major policy reform while avoiding discussion of crucial details. That's part of how he made the case for RomneyCare, the health care reform plan he signed into law as governor as Massachusetts. Like ObamaCare, that law includes an individual mandate requiring nearly everyone in the state to maintain health coverage. Romney sold the plan by touring the state giving PowerPoint presentations intended to drum up support for the plan. But he didn't talk about the mandate. As Martha Bebinger reports in the September issue of Health Affairs, "Romney did not mention the individual mandate. At this stage he was selling the idea that insurance would be so affordable that buying it would not be a burden."

Was Romney already planning an individual mandate at the time? It's hard to say. Bebinger notes that although he published a Boston Globe op-ed around the same time saying that his plan "would apply 'carrots and sticks' to encourage everyone to purchase," Romney's aides say the final decision on the mandate was still up in the air. What's clear, at least, is that Romney didn't want anyone to think he had settled on the inclusion of a mandate.

Eventually, though, Romney would come around — and not reticently either. As The Wall Street Journal reported in June, Romney and his team would become adamant that the Bay State's health care overhaul include a mandate, and would push the state's Democratic legislators to clarify their support for the provision.

Romney, meanwhile, was full-throated in his own support. According to Bebinger, Romney later described the provision as "the ultimate conservative idea," saying that "people have responsibility for their own care, and they don't look to government to take care of them when they can afford to take care of themselves." The governor's team knew that the policy was potentially controversial, and worked out a communications strategy to help with the messaging. Rather than refer to the individual mandate, Romney would refer to either "personal" or "individual responsibility."

There are several things to note from this. One is that Romney apparently cannot tell the difference between a responsibility and a requirement. Another is that Romney prefers not to disclose important policy details and decisions until he absolutely has to, but later will embrace potentially controversial ideas.

Does that mean that his details-free tax reform proposal is a "secret plan?" Perhaps not. But the alternative is that he and Ryan either don't know or don't care which loopholes they would close, which would mean that it's not a secret plan, but no plan at all. 

NEXT: Firefox Fixes Major Privacy Bug

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. It wouldn’t be out of character, however, for Romney to be selling a major policy reform while avoiding discussion of crucial details.

    That’s not out of character for any politician running for office. Honestly, voters don’t want to hear details. Not that it matters in the end. No candidate is going to change one substantial fucking thing about the monstrosity we call the United States Tax Code.

  2. You can pretty much figure out that there aren’t enough deductions that only go to high earners to cover their tax cut. Assuming they won’t actually raise taxes on middle-income people, it’s probably the same old Republican plan: cut taxes and raise the deficit.

    1. Wow, I actually think Tony’s analysis is fairly accurate. That’s a first. Too bad there’s almost nobody in either party willing to do the necessary second part, which is cut spending

    2. But Tony Dems will be able to keep a giant government without raising taxes on the beloved middle class.

      1. You have to raise taxes on the middle class to seriously address the deficit. Democrats aren’t lying about that. They use such phrases as “begin to address the deficit” when arguing for raising upper-income taxes.

        Republicans won’t raise a cent in taxes on anyone, especially the rich, and have no plan for a small government either, so who’s worse on the deficit?

        1. You have to raise taxes on the middle class to seriously address the deficit. Democrats aren’t lying about that. They use such phrases as “begin to address the deficit” when arguing for raising upper-income taxes.

          Beautiful, just beautiful. Tony at his best.

        2. “You have to raise taxes on the middle class to seriously address the deficit.”

          Or we could cut expenditures.

          1. Nice bumper sticker mentality you have there.


        3. “They use such phrases as “begin to address the deficit” when arguing for raising upper-income taxes.”

          No they don’t. They use such phrases as “fair share” and “1 percent.” They don’t mention the deficit.

        4. Or just cut spending back to where it was five or six years ago, before the bailouts.

    3. ah, Tony and his dishonesty. When JFK cut taxes, revenue went up. Same with Reagan and again with Bush. Why, you would think it was a trend. But tony keeps pretending that high taxes are all that prevents deficits. No; the only thing preventing deficits is a Congress unable to stop spending.

      1. Kind of like how each time the capital gains tax was cut under Regan, Clinton, and Bush the revenue increased. And now Obama wants to raise it purely out of vindictiveness to make things “fair”.

      2. With every regurgitation of misleading factoids you read somewhere, you demonstrate that a little knowledge can be worse than none at all.

        Some day you will have to let me know how it feels believing in things almost specifically because they have been repeatedly debunked (i.e., you read too much GOP propaganda and believe it).

        Revenues went up in those periods, but there was no causative relationship with the tax cuts. Revenues go up in growth periods. No serious economist thinks anything but that revenues would have been even higher without the tax cuts, or that any tax cut produces sufficient stimulus to pay for itself (which is a Keynesian argument anyway).

        You can’t defend not raising taxes a single cent if you care about the deficit, period. As the man said, it’s just arithmetic.

        1. Tax rates do affect revenue, but there are a lot of other factors, and not just economic growth. Tax revenue as a percentage of GDP was higher from 1980-2010 than from 1950-1980 despite the rates being much higher during the earlier period

      3. What we need is the death penalty for every member of a Congress that runs a deficit. BOOM! Instant balanced budgets.

        I know most people here are against the death penalty, but I’m sure they would make an exception for Congress.

        1. Sine they execute government officials in China, maybe we can get Thomas Friedman in on this idea. He can sell it on the talk shows and it’ll finally part of the media dialogue.

  3. Dude no way man, I never thought about that before.


  4. he and Ryan either don’t know or don’t care which loopholes they would close, which would mean that it’s not a secret plan, but no plan at all.

    “My plan is so secret, even I don’t know what I’m doing!”

  5. Maybe he’s full of shit. On the other hand, he would be politically insane to go into details about who would lose their precious loopholes at this point before the election.

    1. Republicans would very much like the concept of the informed voter to become obsolete.

      1. Yes, only Republicans! lol

        “But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.” – Nancy Pelosi

        1. away from the fog of the controversy, somewhere deep, deep, deep in the haze of obscurity.

        2. Pelosi was correct that time. The operative word is YOU.

          (my local AM redneck host Boortz misquotes her with “we” instead.)

          1. That’s right. I forgot that “we”belong to the government and are ruled by “you”.

            1. Teabaggers don’t know what is in it. They just chanted DEATH PANELS for its attempt to cut costs.

              1. Way to miss the point, butt plug.

          2. The operative word is YOU.

            Which was exactly my point, so thanks.

          3. “We” would have been just as accurate. There ain’t a single damn senator that read the entire fucking thing before it was passed. There simply wasn’t enough time.

    2. He could say something like:

      “Here’s the deal: I will sign a revenue-neutral tax reform bill that cuts rates and eliminates credits, loopholes, deductions, whatever. Personally, I would like to keep the deductions for home ownership and charitable contributions, but everything is on the table.

      The math, though, is that every loophole, deduction, and credit that Congress keeps will be paid for by everybody else, because it will limit how much we can reduce rates.”

      1. “Revenue-neutral tax reform” is kind of an oxymoron. What’s the point of reforming taxes if revenue stays the same?

        1. Less dead weight in the economy from people trying to maintain compliance?

  6. Secret Plan, huh? Way to embrace Transparency there…

  7. Romney wants to lower the top rate from 35% to mid 20ish and won’t admit that the mortgage interest deduction has to go away to make it revenue neutral.

    Simpson-Bowles did admit it. Paul Ryan voted against S-B and was instrumental in killing it.

  8. No one here bothered to cover Gary Johnson’s Town Hall meeting? Jebus….

  9. The last time Obama wanted a plan he called Pelosi. It worked out swell too, they had to pass it so we could see what was in it.

    That’s way better than anything you might get from Rumnuts.

  10. Alt text alt:

    “Gee Dad, thanks for letting me borrow the station wagon!”

    “No problem son, just be sure to be home by 10:30!”

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.