Two weeks ago, Mitt Romney unveiled what he has repeatedly deemed a "bold" plan to deliver a 20 percent across-the-board tax cut. As it turns out, the plan isn't so bold after all. For starters, it's largely a retread of the 15 percent tax cut scheme Bob Dole rode to defeat in 1996. And after a wave of analyses showed Romney's plan would produce oceans of red ink while giving the rich yet another payday courtesy of the U.S. Treasury, Mitt admitted today that his plan "can't be scored" because "I haven't laid out all of the details."
As The Hill reported today, the GOP frontrunner is now essentially claiming he deserves an "A" because the dog ate his homework:
"So I haven't laid out all of the details about how we're going to deal with each deduction, so I think it's kind of interesting for the groups to try and score it, because frankly it can't be scored, because those kinds of details will have to be worked out with Congress, and we have a wide array of options."
As Ezra Klein's Wonkblog rightly concluded:
"Let's be clear on this: A tax plan that can't be scored because it doesn't include sufficient details is not a plan. It's a gesture towards a plan, or a statement of intended direction, or perhaps an unusually wonky daydream. But it's not a plan."
Romney's may not be a plan, but it is a recipe. At a time of record income inequality, the lowest federal tax burden in 60 years, and large budget deficits without listing all of his ingredients, Mitt Romney is just offering a recipe for exploding national debt and a windfall for the wealthy.
As the Washington Post explained in its discussion of an analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, "until the campaign offers a more specific plan, Budget Watch analysts said Romney's entire framework would add about $2.6 trillion to the debt by 2021." That's likely a conservative estimate. As ThinkProgress and the Washington Post's Lori Montgomery and Ezra Klein documented, Mitt Romney's risky new scheme makes George W. Bush look like Karl Marx:
Romney's claim that his plan would promote job and economic growth while reducing the deficit is also likely false. The Bush tax cuts were promoted under the same guise, only to blow a $2.5-trillion hole in the federal budget that was accompanied by worst performance of any post-war expansion" for growth in investment, GDP, and job creation. Romney's tax cuts are even more expensive, clocking in at a cost of more than $10.7 trillion over the next decade and reducing revenue to a paltry 15 percent of GDP, according to Linden. Balancing the budget on those terms, as Romney claims he will do, would be next to impossible.
And as Klein made clear in his 150 word description of the Romney plan, there's only one place Mitt can look for the money:
Mitt Romney is promising that taxes will go down, defense spending will go up, and old-people programs won't change for this generation of retirees. So three of his four options for deficit reduction -- taxes, old-people programs, and defense -- are now either contributing to the deficit or are off-limits for the next decade.
Romney is also promising that he will pay for his tax cuts, pay for his defense spending, and reduce total federal spending by more than $6 trillion over the next 10 years. But the only big pot of money left to him is poor-people programs. So, by simple process of elimination, poor-people programs will have to be cut dramatically. There's no other way to make those numbers work.
The numbers won't work, that is, unless President Romney both savaged federal spending and eliminated deductions for workers, families and businesses that cost Uncle Sam over $1 trillion a year. But in typical Romney fashion, his campaign is refusing to say which loopholes it would close while promising to maintain the ones voters care about most. His economic adviser Glenn Hubbard admitted Romney's cowardice, explaining "it is not his intention to take on any specific deduction or exclusion and eliminate it." And as The New York Times reported, Romney promised last Wednesday his plan would somehow be "revenue neutral" and raise the burden on upper-income taxpayers, even as he balanced the budget.
Two months before Romney rolled out his desperate 20 percent tax cut, the reliably Republican Wall Street Journal essentially labeled Mitt a coward when it came to making the tough choices in his economic plan. Then and now, Mitt admitted that discretion was the better part of valor:
Amid such generalities, it's hard not to conclude that the candidate is trying to avoid offering any details that might become a political target. And he all but admits as much. "I happen to also recognize," he says, "that if you go out with a tax proposal which conforms to your philosophy but it hasn't been thoroughly analyzed, vetted, put through models and calculated in detail, that you're gonna get hit by the demagogues in the general election."
Those "demagogues," as Mitt Romney calls the American people, just want to see his math. Otherwise, his pledge to "cut, cap and balance" the budget is just a smokescreen. As Klein summed it up:
So at this point, Romney doesn't have a plan to reform the tax system. He has a statement about what he would like a reformed tax system to include: lower rates for everyone. But that's cake-and-ice-cream stuff. All the hard questions -- which tax breaks to close, for instance -- remain unanswered, and it doesn't appear that he plans to answer them anytime soon.
And there's nothing bold about that.
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)