I can describe Mitt Romney’s tax policy promises in two words: mathematically impossible.
analysis to date of Romney’s tax plan and which bent over backward to make his promises add up. They’re perhaps the two most important words that have been written during this U.S. presidential election.
If you were to distill the presumptive Republican nominee’s campaign to a few sentences, you could hardly do better than this statement of purpose from the speech Romney delivered in Detroit, outlining his plan for the economy: “I believe the American people are ready for real leadership. I believe they deserve a bold, conservative plan for reform and economic growth. Unlike President Obama, I actually have one — and I’m not afraid to put it on the table.”
The truth is that Romney is afraid to put his plan on the table. He has promised to reduce the deficit, but refused to identify the spending he would cut. He has promised to reform the tax code, but refused to identify the deductions and loopholes he would eliminate. The only thing he has put on the table is dessert: a promise to cut marginal tax rates by 20 percent across the board and to do so without raising the deficit or reducing the taxes paid by the top 1 percent.
To help Romney, the center did so under the most favorable conditions, which also happen to be wildly unrealistic. The analysts assumed that any cuts to deductions or loopholes would begin with top earners, and that no one earning less than $200,000 would have their deductions reduced until all those earning more than $200,000 had lost all of their deductions and tax preferences first. They assumed, as Romney has promised, that the reforms would spare the portions of the tax code that privilege saving and investment. They even ran a simulation in which they used a model developed, in part, by Greg Mankiw, one of Romney’s economic advisers, that posits “implausibly large growth effects” from tax cuts.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities produced its own analysis of Romney’s plan, based on an assumption that Romney pays for half of his tax cuts through spending cuts. The conclusion: By 2022, Romney would need to cut all non-defense, non-Social Security programs by 49 percent. That is not plausible, to say the least.
The Romney campaign has not provided good answers to the questions raised by its own math. But we already knew the Romney campaign didn’t have good answers. If Romney had good answers, he would have made good on his rhetoric and put his plans on the table.
It would be great if Romney could fulfill his promise to cut taxes by trillions of dollars, increase defense spending, keep entitlement spending on pretty much its current path for the next decade, and balance the budget. But as Tyler Cowen, the George Mason University economist, put it in a pithy tweet (though perhaps “pithy tweet” is a tautology), “The proposed Romney fiscal policy just doesn’t make any sense.
This is not a surprise. Even some Republican policy experts admit in private that Romney’s promises simply don’t add up. To twist Abraham Lincoln’s famous formulation, the Romney campaign has decided it’s better to remain silent and be thought evasive than to reveal your plan and remove all doubt that you’re cutting taxes on the rich while increasing the deficit, raising taxes on the middle class and cutting programs for the poor...