Election 2012

Romney Makes His Tax Promises Even Harder to Keep


In my column last week, I discussed the dispute over whether Mitt Romney's tax plan, which he has not spelled out in detail, can meet the goals he has set: 1) reduce income tax rates by 20 percent, 2) abolish the estate tax, 3) repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax, and 4) eliminate taxes on interest, dividends, and capital gains for taxpayers earning less than $200,000 without 5) reducing revenue, 6) increasing the burden on "middle-income familes," or 7) reducing the share of taxes paid by "high-income" households. During last night's presidential debate, Romney added another requirement: "I want middle-income taxpayers to have lower taxes." Or as he also put it, "I want to get some relief to middle-income families." Did he merely mean lower rates, the financial benefit of which could be eliminated by cutting credits and deductions? No: 

I am not going to have people at the high end pay less than they're paying now. 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 don't see how Romney can reconcile all of these promises. Even if the tax reform he proposes (lower rates combined with fewer loopholes) substantially boosts economic growth, thereby yielding more revenue, it is not arithmetically possible for the share of taxes paid by the rich to "stay the same" while the nonrich pay less. If the total sum paid by "middle-income people" goes down but revenue remains the same, the share paid by "the top 5 percent of taxpayers" has to go up, not "stay the same." The Laffer Curve won't get Romney out of that. 

Maybe Romney assumes his tax changes will boost incomes among the nonrich, so their effective tax rates will be lower even if their tax bills remain the same. In fact, assuming a big enough payoff in economic growth, "middle-income people" (almost the entire population, according to Romney's definition) could end up paying more in taxes yet still a smaller percentage of their incomes. But bigger tax bills are probably not what most people imagine when they hear him promising "lower taxes." In any case, he really needs to define his terms and explain the degree to which his projections depend on assumptions about how tax reform will affect economic growth. 

Addendum: A commenter says, "Of course he was talking about rates." But the question is how he intends to achieve lower effective rates. Romney wants to reduce marginal rates while limiting credits and deductions. Last night he said one approach would be to cap total credits and deductions, suggesting a possible ceiling of $25,000. The implication is that the nonrich will continue to claim all or nearly all of the credits and deductions to which they are accustomed while their rates go down, meaning they will see a net tax cut. That seems to me the most natural interpretation of Romney's promise, and it does not hinge on economic growth projections. But it does reduce revenue, meaning the share of taxes paid by the rich will have to go up to keep revenue the same. Alternatively, optimistic enough projections of economic growth could give "middle-income people" lower effective tax rates even if they lose most of their credits and deductions when the marginal rates come down.

NEXT: Gallup: Romney up by 6 Percent, 2 Points Overnight

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  1. Cue John slamming Reason for being a bunch of liberal shills in 3… 2…

    1. I was just thinking we’ve gone almost an hour without a Romney Bastard headline.

      1. Is he an unlikable person and a terrible candidate or not?

        That’s what Reason says! Even if it’s not what they say it’s what they think!

        Prove me wrong! Prove me wrong!


        1. So you think he is a good candidate? Not sure I agree with you. But it is good to know where you stand.

          1. RED TONY LOOMS!

            1. You said it not me.

              1. Did you miss the “/John” tag? That means I was making a sarcastic parody of your annoying ass.

          2. Where you go wrong is assuming that “Romney is a bad candidate” = “Therefore vote for Obama”.

            Reason generally doesn’t write articles from the binary electoral perspective.

            1. We got a couple templates in the heavy rotation:
              Romney is a bastard
              Obama is a lying fuck
              Gary Johnson is being ignored

              Cop/kills/beats/tases someone/some dog
              John Stossel pimping his show
              the shitty friday funny

              I miss old staples like marijuana legalization, prostitutes turned political activist and Drew Carey saves cleveland.

              BTW aren’t we due for a Kennedy video?

              1. Sure was better round these parts when Postrel’s steady hand was on the tiller…

              2. Drew Carey saves cleveland.

                Whatever happened to that? Was Cleveland saved?

                1. “Was Cleveland saved?”

                  It’s dead, Jim.


                  1. I have a fantastic video that takes place in Cleveland that I plan on posting in the evening links. Basically a bus driver fucking upper-cuts a chick who is getting bitchy w/ him on the bus.

                    1. Already saw it.

                2. The only way to save Cleveland is to destroy it.

            2. Reason is in the cult of the presidency along with everyone else.

              If it doesn’t accept the fact that the presidential election is, in fact, a binary situation, then that’s just sad.

              1. Reason is in the cult of the presidency along with everyone else.

                Thinking the president does too damn much, most of it awful, isn’t very “cult”-like.

                If it doesn’t accept the fact that the presidential election is, in fact, a binary situation, then that’s just sad.

                That you pretend there are only two candidates, and further act like the Democratic candidates are spun gold, is just dishonest.

          3. And they’ve spent 3 years bashing Obama. I think we can begrudge them six months of ROMNIAC.

            Not to mention it’s pretty odd for a website that’s supposedly a liberal shill to feature a regular columnist who specializes in bashing California legislators, unions, fiscal decisions, and basically everything else left-coast folks hold sacred.

            1. They are probably going to have four years of bashing ROMNIAC.

              I understand why they do it. If ROMNIAC wins, it just tells the Republicans they can safely ignore Libertarians. If Obama wins, they can tell Republicans, see if you had just listened to us you would have won.

              So from a purely self interested perspective, Reason should be hoping for an Obama win.

              1. On a scale of 1 to 10, ROMNIAC is about -3. Of course, Obamana is about -12.

                1. That’s a logarithmic scale, right?

                  1. If that works for you

    2. For God’s sake, people.

      You complain about right-wingers bitching about Reason editorials, but the very first comment on the gods-damned article is a written invitation for yet another thread to descend into a back-and-forth on Matt Welch’s opinion of Romney or whatever.

      Don’t complain if you’re an active participant in making every thread about Romney a discussion about right wing trolls and Matt Welch.

      1. Many commenters here are, generally speaking, cynical misanthropes, and therefore in a constant state of misery. What does misery love? Company. So if every thread can be fucked up then it will make everyone else miserable too.

  2. Really Sullum? Do you get paid by the story regardless of the content?

    Of course he was talking about rates.

  3. Ok, ok, I cave. I give up trying to pretend any of this is remotely serious.

    Why are we even taking this tax plan debate seriously?
    He’s a politician! He panders! DUH!
    Does anyone with two brain cells to run together NOT REALIZE that whatever supposed plan he’s blathering about right now isn’t going to survive ten seconds of contact with Congress shoudl he be elected?

    Politicians priorities and policies change they second they get elected. They ALWAYS do. Obama got elected on a promise to close GITMO and end the Iraq War. He signed a symbolic executive order and then spent the net two years passing a healthcare bill. He didn’t RUN ON ObamaCare. He ran on not being Bush and being anti-war.

    How much time are we really going to spend debating the mathematics of a tax cutting plan that everone should realize is just an electioneering gimmick?

    Jesus Fuck. Can we talk about something that might ACTUALLY HAPPEN after the election, maybe?

    1. That would leave nothing to talk about, since NOTHING will actually happen after the election:

      Obama will face a recalcitrant GOP majority in the House, maybe the Senate. Nothing he proposes will happen.

      Romney will face Democratic filibusters in the Senate, even if there’s a Republican majority. Nothing he proposes will happen.

      Partisans like to think they’re electing a Dictator, rather than a President. Thankfully, that isn’t true.

      The result is that a divided Congress will simply kick the can down the road for the next 2-4 years. Which means more (automatic) spending and more (automatic) debt.

      So, there really isn’t anything to talk about.

      1. You’re mostly right. However, occasional Congress does do something. It just never resembles closely whatever was originally proposed.

        So, it is Completely-Fucking-Irrelevant whether Romney’s math adds up. Because Romney’s plan is not going to be whatever (if anything) actually makes it’s way through Congress. Whatever makes it’s way through Congress is going to be scored by the CBO according to it’s own math, and is going to be a negotiated set of tax cuts and deduction closures that will be theoretically “deficit neutral” according ot the CBOs math.

        The only thing we should really be debating is which general rough idea is vaguly more in the direction we should go.

        1. This ^^^

          This is why Romney’s response to the demands for specifics should have been something along the lines of…

          “I’m sorry I didn’t realize I was running for the post of Supreme Dictator, the last I checked it was the office of the President of the United States, a position which has Constitutionally limited powers for very good reasons and as such I cannot control what actually gets passed by the Congress, what I can tell you is that I veto any plan which does not adhere to the core principals of lower rates on a broader tax base with fewer deductions while remaining essentially revenue neutral and not really changing the relative tax burdens of the various economic cohorts”

          1. How does that reduce the deficit?

            1. is that your priority now?

    2. Well, if Romney wins the left wing is going to absofuckinglutely have a shitfit. Will be fun to watch?

  4. Voodoo tax plans on both sides. I’m still waiting for Obama to tell us what “ending tax incentives for corporations to ship jobs overseas” means. I’ve talked to a couple tax CPAs and they don’t have a clue what incentives he’s talking about.

    1. “I’ve talked to a couple tax CPAs and they don’t have a clue what incentives he’s talking about.”

      You must know Romney’s accountant too then.

    2. Tariffs. The tax incentive he will do away with is “not paying taxes” on imported goods.

    3. He wants to carve out an exception to certain tax writeoffs, basically. I.e. not allow companies to expense the cost of moving overseas.

      1. OK, that might be trackable. But how is he going to track, say, a company that starts buying some of its parts overseas instead of from U.S. vendors or making them in house? In fact, if
        a company makes more profit because it has moved some sourcing overseas, it will end up paying more U.S. taxes, not less! So in this sense a company is already punished to some extent for outsourcing.
        And if Obama wants to slap tariffs on imports, including Mexico and Canada, then he should come right out and say it.

        1. Well, of course it’s not trackable. In fact, it’s yet another piece of election pandering. Nobody’s going to actually slap tarriffs on Chinese auto parts. it’s just a rhetorical gimmick to try to claim the other guy wants to give people tax breaks to ship jobs over seas. Since, in our brave new world, all money belongs to the government so any money that business is allowed to keep is, by somebody’s invented math, a “tax break”. All you have to do is redefinte what should count as income and instantly not counting something as income is suddenly a tax cut. Magic. presto.

    4. Basically, Obama’s position is that the fact that U.S. payroll taxes, corporate income taxes, etc. are no longer being paid once a job moves overseas amounts to a “tax incentive”.

      He’s basically Mr. Grumpy Pants that he doesn’t get to impose U.S. taxation on what amount to foreign or multinational companies doing business outside of the U.S. Very few “American” companies are either owned 100% or primarily do business just in America anymore. With this crypto-mercantalist talk, he’ll be on his way to getting those figures down to 0%.

  5. of course the real incentives are the better tax breaks, the lower labor costs, less regulations…

    1. in the other country that is.

  6. “Even if the tax reform he proposes (lower rates combined with fewer loopholes) substantially boosts economic growth, thereby yielding more revenue, it is not arithmetically possible for the share of taxes paid by the rich to “stay the same” while the nonrich pay less.”

    If there is a substantial boost in economic growth, it is certainly possible for the “rich” to continue to contribute 60% of the revenue to the gov’t while decreasing taxes on the middle and stay revenue neutral.
    But, initially we don’t even know what the 60% is paying for since there has been no specific budget proposed to fund.

  7. Jacob, I think you need to spend $1200 on a doll.

    Even if the tax reform he proposes (lower rates combined with fewer loopholes) substantially boosts economic growth, thereby yielding more revenue, it is not arithmetically possible for the share of taxes paid by the rich to “stay the same” while the nonrich pay less. If the total sum paid by “middle-income people” goes down but revenue remains the same, the share paid by “the top 5 percent of taxpayers” has to go up, not “stay the same.”

    You left out a group. The poor.

    Rich stays at 60%. Middle Class drops from 38% to 35%. Poor goes from 2% to 5%.

    All numbers just examples, but I think that meets his criteria.

    1. But Obama eliminated poverty, right?

      1. With all those people on food stamps, I don’t see how he couldn’t have.

    2. Romney speaks of just two groups: 1) “the top 5 percent of taxpayers” (a.k.a. “high-income” households) and 2) “middle-income people” (everyone else). The latter definition does not make much sense to me, but I am working with the terms he uses.

      1. He isnt going to come out and say “Raise taxes on the poor”, although he covered that was his 47% comment.

        Middle-income doesnt mean “everyone else”. Middle-income is a large part of “everyone else” but not all of them.

  8. Changing the tax structure isn’t going to get us out of this economic mess.

    The way to get the economy going is to take steps to dismantle the regulatory state that requires asking permission and taking orders before engaging in economic activity.

    Freedom is the answer.

    Why is that so hard?

    1. Agree about the regulations, but isn’t there also a large amount of wasted resources used to comply with the convoluted tax code?

      1. There’s no comparison.

        1. “In 2005 individuals, businesses and nonprofits will spend an estimated 6 billion hours complying with the federal income tax code, with an estimated compliance cost of over $265.1 billion. This amounts to imposing a 22-cent tax compliance surcharge for every dollar the income tax system collects.”


          1. “The cost of regulation to businesses in America is $1.75 trillion (according to a study done by the SBA’s Department of Advocacy).”


            It takes about six $265Bs to make $1.75T.

          2. US GDP is $15 trillion (I think), so about 1.7% of our economic output is the tax-compliance industry.

            Getting rid of this compliance burden would be an instant 1.7% GDP boost, which is nothing to laugh at.

            1. Regulatory compliance amounts to roughly $1.75 trillion. Over ten percent of the economy.

              1. Regulatory compliance is basically a ten percent tax on top of all the other taxes.

                1. No no, it’s a JERBZ plan! If you reform the tax code think of all those accountants who will lose their JERBZ! Whay do you accountants and their JERBZ, you big libertarian bully?!?!

          3. That’s great. My reply was marked as spam.

            Google up the cost of regulatory compliance. It’s about six times the figure you posted.

            1. Sure, I understand it’s higher, but 265 billion in 2005 isn’t “big bird” either.

              1. I think of “higher” as $300 billion, or $400 billion, not $1750 billion.

            2. You know what happens if there aren’t regulations regulating every single human activity?*

              Why do you hate garment workers?

              *basically the argument a college prof made one day in class

              1. They’d unionise? Horrors!

          4. As a CPA, people assume I love the complicated tax code. When I tell them no, I do not believe taxes should be so complicated that you have to hire a weenie like me to do them, they then worry about what I would do with myself.

            1. I would probably pay our CPA firm the same amount that I do no for tax compliance to instead figure out how to use our accounting software, etc. to run our business better.

              1. I only do tax, so that explains some of the shock and awe; but of course since I was competent enough to pass a comprehensive exam in accounting, I’ll be ok.

              2. I would gladly go back to auditing financials and providing general business consulting than spend six months of the year doing income taxes.

                1. I would gladly go back to auditing financials and providing general business consulting than spend six months of the year doing income taxes.


                  Ptah-Hotep, CPA,CIA

                  1. Wait… you like the dual tax seasons we have now?

                    1. Wait… you like the dual tax seasons we have now?

                      If this is to me, no. I HATE fscking tax season. I did two years with a CPA firm and decided if I had to do that for the rest of my life I would either kill myself or drink myself into a stupor. I left and went into industry and have never looked back or regretted it.

                      I still pay a CPA every year to do my taxes for me so my hat is off to you and The Craig.

                    2. It is a sad existence.

                    3. I think the same thing every year, and yet here I am still working in public. I’m just that much of a masochist.


                2. WHAT?!?! You’d want to make America more competitive??? What, do you want us to take over the world or soemthing, you libertarian-fascist???

    2. Freedom is the answer.

      Why is that so hard?

      Freedom is hard.

      /Statist Barbie

    3. You are right, Sarcasmic, but unfortunately neither Romney nor Obama is mentioning anything along those lines. For both of them, the answer has to be more government.

    4. Of course it is. The whole source of our stagnation is over-regulation. Without another bubble or another technological revolution, there’s no place for growth to come from.

      But you’ll never get the media to agree with that. Especially not with the CW saying that “deregulation” caused the financial crisis.
      Not to mention they are now happily promoting the socialist meme that stagnation is our inevitable fate, that technological progress has once and for all come to an end, and we should just relax and accept zero growth forever.

  9. And another thing …

    Everyone keeps blathering about ‘the specifics”, “where are the specifics”.

    OF COURSE there are no specifics. The specifics have to be negotiated with Congress. You people know how this works. You’re not going to lay out exactly what the deductions will be because those are your fucking cards that you need to trade with congress to get the tax cuts. You aren’t going to lay all your fucking cards on the table and tell the other side exactly what you are and aren’t willing to sacrifice. Give me a break.

    The talking heads are just being completely disingenuous and mendacious on this subject. Anyone with half a brain knows how it works, and why Romney isn’t detailing specific deductions. And they also know that it’s not oging to be a 20% tax cut. That’s just his opening bid.

    Jesus, can we just drop the bullshit and admit all this ?

    1. I’d actually be okay with general, nonspecific plans if they were aligned with the way I think things should go.

      1. Eliminating deductions and lowering tax rates IS in roughly a libertarian direction. Especially the elimination of deductions part. If we can make the tax cut big enough to force the mhome mortgage deduction and the employer healthcare credit onto the table that would be awesome.

    2. Romney said as much in the first debates, when he emphasised that he brings the skill of negotiating deals with an almost entirely Democratic legislature during his tenure as governor.

      Versus the incumbent, who has a proven track record of being unable to get *any* of his budgets or tax plans through.

      1. Feature, not a bug. If his budget doesn’t get passed, he can’t be blamed for anything, ever.

        1. Sometimes, I think the President is a brilliant man–in the sense that he’s craftily figured out how to avoid being responsible for anything.

          “I wanted to pass a responsible budget and cut spending but nobody would let me.”

          1. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid in particular.

  10. But bigger tax bills are probably not what most people imagine when they hear him promising “lower taxes.”

    No, they should imagine lower tax rates. Romney has consistently stated that he wants to lower tax rates 20%.

    1. Exactly, it is a bit disingenuous to claim that by keeping the rich’s share of the tax burden at 60% (which is not to say it doesn’t actually increase, just that it won’t decrease from that percentage), it doesn’t mean that the middle class will end up paying a greater share.

      He was pretty specific that he wants rates to come down, be somewhat offset by eliminating deductions, and the rest be offset by increasing economic growth resulting in more tax receipts overall.

      I’m sure the average person would be more than happy paying an extra $1,000/year in federal tax is they’re effective rate is actually the same or lower, because it just means they made more fucking money, which is what his whole “five point plan” is about (whether its effective is another story).

      1. He just wants to get elected. The tax cuts will be whatever deal he can make with Congress, if any.

  11. “So Romney commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. And He took the seven tax cuts and the defense spending increases and gave thanks, broke them and gave them to His disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitude. So they all had their deductions were filled, and they took up seven large deficit reductions of the fragments that were left. Now those who paid less taxes were all the middle class, besides those earning more than $250,000 per year. And He sent away the multitude, got into the boat, and came to the region of Magdala.”

    1. Nonsense. It’s nothing to do with religion; just simple bistromathics, really.

      1. So does your moniker refer to Obama’s famous pantleg that David brooks fell in love with?

  12. This is kinda boring so here’s a video of a helicopter being blown up in Syria. It’s an awesome explosion.


    1. Michael Bay wept.

    2. Based on the endless repetition of “allahu akbar” does John McCain still think we should arm the militants?

      1. Depends if what they’re sentiments on Citizens United are.

        1. What’s a “citizen”? /muslim brotherhood

          1. What’s a grammatically correct well-constructed sentence? /me

            Cripes I don’t even

    3. In recent days it has appeared that Syrian rebels have acquired heavy weapons that have forced the government’s air force to bomb rebel-held zones from higher altitude, leading to claims of more indiscriminate bombing.

      And where, pray tell, did they get those heavy weapons? Hmmm, unintended consequences, anyone?

  13. I’d gladly pay more taxes each year if it meant I didn’t have to pay a CPA thousands of dollars a year to carefully go through our books and make business decisions I don’t want to make because of tax consequences. (E.g. buying equipment I’d rather lease because I get a Sec. 179 deduction this year.)

    I would complain about the taxes associated with employment, but we just “parted ways” with our last employee, so that won’t be a problem anymore. Mmm, jobless recovery!

    1. Great point

  14. Breaking: George McGovern teetering on the edge of death.

    Another undecided voter soon to be confirmed in the Obama column.

    1. Poor lad. So young. He never had a chance to vote. Well, he’ll vote from now on. I’ll make sure of that.


  15. I’m glad Romney called him on the “I created 5 million jobs” misdirection.

    Somehow we have less people working but more jobs, and somehow he cut spending when the debt is up 6 trillion. War is Peace.

    1. A fired-and-rehired employee is a job Obama created. Especially when they get rehired for 2 hours a week at half their old pay.

      1. Lest we forget that anyone not fired during this great recession had his job saved by Obama and the stimulus.

        So you see, everyone working in the US today does so through the benevolence of the great leader. Now shut up and thank your betters damnit.

      2. Obama created lots of jobs for the TSA.

  16. Technically, the only way they can keep the rich’s share at 60% while lowering the middle class’s share by making up for the reductions in the middle class’s share with new taxes on the working poor. I’m surprised the Democrats haven’t reamed him with this question yet.

    1. Bullshit. If the rich get richer, they will have more money to tax.

      1. I do not know what statement you are responding to, but I am certain it is not the one above your post.

  17. You know what Reason should do?

    For one straight week, it should try imitating DKos’ negative commentary as best it can.

    The next week, it should strictly post commentary identical to that of a conservative site, but with no other commentary or explanation.

    I bet that at the end of the experiment, you’d still have the same people bitching about the content and editorial bias, and the same people defending it as libertarian and non-partisan to their dying breaths.

  18. When Romney stated he would cap the maximum total deductions at $25,000, wouldn’t that inherently increase the rate and percentage the wealthy would pay in most cases? This would be a very progressive tax reform.

    1. Does it matter? Doesn’t the AMT do the same thing?

  19. That seems to me the most natural interpretation of Romney’s promise, and it does not hinge on economic growth projections. But it does reduce revenue

    It only reduces revenue is there is no growth in the economy. If the economy grows, there will be more income to tax, which would potentially fill in the gap.

    Let’s not forget that the bottom 75% of tax payers only contribute about 13% of income tax revenue to the federal government. If Romney lowers their effective rate by 20%, the bottom 75% would only contribute what, 10%? The top pays the lions share of tax revenue to the feds. If you want to increase revenue, you need more wealth at the top.

  20. LA Time front page today: “Worlds Apart”, a piece about Obama/Romney.

    I could only think: You are all fucking morons if you believe this.

  21. The thing that all these sensible and realitic people fail to understand, is the basic principal behind mittens tax plan. His tax plan is not to balance the deficits or reduce the debt. His tax plan is not to help grow the economy, by putting more money in the people that create demand, the workers. His tax plan is not about reform or progress of this country. Mitt tax plan is pure and simple defrauding the treasury at the expense of workers. This simply highway robbery, looting like a pirate, modern day theft. his tax plan is simply a way to reward his friends, enrich himself and ensure that he kids never have to pay their fair share to the nation they benefit from the most.

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