Political reporters and pundits lean heavily on the horse race method of coverage, which has badly hurt Mitt Romney for most of the campaign. Last night it helped him. Romney was forceful and articulate and dodged his association with almost all the most unpopular aspects of his platform. But his success at doing so was built upon two demonstrable untruths.
The most important was taxes. Romney asserted, “I cannot reduce the burden paid by high-income Americans.” Let me explain how this is untrue even by his own campaign’s accounting.
Obama badly flubbed this topic by allowing Romney to change the baseline of the discussion. Romney is promising to extend all the Bush tax cuts and refuses to accept even slightly higher revenue as part of a deficit deal. On top of that, he is proposing a huge, regressive income tax rate cut that would reduce revenue by an additional $5 trillion, but promises to make up for it by closing tax deductions. Obama directed his fire almost entirely at the additional tax cut, leaving mostly untouched, until the end, Romney’s pledge to never bargain away any of the Bush tax cuts.
Obama’s case was sound. The Tax Policy Center has shown that the stated parameters of Romney’s plan don’t add up — even under favorable assumptions, there are not enough tax deductions for the rich to close to pay for the rate cuts. Romney has disputed this and cited a series of studies that, in various ways, change the parameters of the Tax Policy Center study. Some of these studies find that it could be theoretically possible that Romney could cut rates and, by closing loopholes, do so without losing revenue or raising taxes on the middle class — if you lower the bar on who is middle class from $250,000 to $100,000, or count the repeal of Obamacare to help pay for the tax cuts, or use really wildly optimistic growth assumptions.
None of these studies back up Romney’s claim that he won’t reduce taxes on the rich. They confirm that he will reduce taxes on the rich. They merely suggest that he could make up the revenue some other way than taxing the middle class or increasing the deficit — that the economic growth will help the tax cuts for the rich pay for themselves, or that some of the lost revenue can be made up for by cutting off subsidies for the uninsured. Romney flat-out misstated his position.