WASHINGTON -- Over the past few weeks, the Romney campaign has repeatedly pointed to five separate studies supporting the candidate's contention that a dramatic, across-the-board, reduction in tax rates can be paid for by economic growth and the elimination of deductions and exemptions for high-income earners.
Romney himself referenced these five studies in an interview with Meet the Press on Sunday. His running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), said the same during his run through the Sunday show circuit.
A closer examination, however, calls into question the fact that there are even five studies at all. Last week, the Romney campaign passed along the five documents that the candidate had referenced on NBC's Meet the Press. Three of the five are blog posts or op-eds (as opposed to academic literature), and two of those three are written by the same author: Harvard economist Martin Feldstein.
Of the remaining two studies, one is the tax reform white paper authored by Romney-backing economists and paid for by Romney for President, Inc. (in an email to PolitiFact, the Romney campaign highlighted several Wall Street Journal editorials in place of the campaign white paper as the "fifth" study).
The final study, produced by Princeton University's Harvey Rosen, backs the Romney campaign's assertions by arguing that people will work more, accumulate more income, pay more taxes, and seek out fewer loopholes if their tax rates are lowered. But even that report has several nuances that complicate the candidate's use of it.
Romney is not without philosophical support with respect to his tax plan. The Wall Street Journal editorials that his campaign sent PolitiFact, for one, argue that sharp reductions in tax rates will spur economic growth, which, in turn, will allow for increases in tax revenues. Those pieces have helped the campaign push back on a critical study by the Tax Policy Center, which concluded that Romney would have to eliminate tax deductions on things like home mortgage interest payments, charitable donations, and employer-provided health insurance in order to have his plan be deficit-neutral.
But even Feldstein has said that to make Romney's math work, some of those deductions would have to be eliminated on incomes over $100,000. In his August 28 Wall Street Journal piece, what Romney calls a "study," Feldstein writes that Romney could generate $191 billion by scrubbing these deductions, "more than enough to offset the revenue losses from the individual tax cuts proposed by Gov. Romney."
In other words, the economist who has written two of the five studies that the Romney campaign highlights has conceded that Romney would have to eliminate tax preferences for people making over $100,000 per year in order to make his plan work. And yet, when asked in an interview with "Good Morning America" on Friday morning if he would remove those deductions and exemptions for incomes over $100,000, Romney said "no."
"That’s not what I propose," he said. "And, of course, part of my plan is to stimulate economic growth. The biggest source of getting the country to a balanced budget is not by raising taxes or by cutting spending."
The statement follows months of refusals from the Romney campaign to actually detail what kind of deductions and exemptions the candidate would seek to eliminate once in office. George Stephanopoulos, hosting GMA, pushed back, noting that Romney was now actually distancing himself from a study he routinely cites as supportive.
Romney responded by saying he hadn't "seen [Feldstein's] precise study" but that there were five studies in total "that point out that we can get to a balanced budget without raising taxes on middle income people." Romney would define middle income as $200,000 to $250,000 per year and lower.
With that measure of middle class, Princeton economist Rosen's study may still suffice. Rosen argued that Romney could get his tax plan to deficit neutrality by eliminating deductions for income over $200,000 a year. But in a separate interview with Reuters on Friday, he seemingly revised that figure downward to $100,000 per year
"What the political system would find feasible, I don’t know,” Rosen said. “It’s mathematically possible."
Even then, there are questions that surround the study's conclusions. Rosen depends on assumptions that he acknowledges are not made by the Treasury Department or the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation about how high-income earners respond to changes in tax rates. Unlike those government bodies, he assumes that the wealthy will not seek to take advantage of as many tax loopholes if their overall tax rate is lower. More importantly, he assumes that Romney's tax plan will grow wage and capital income by at least three percent. This could be viewed as an aggressive assumption. Under President Bush, the entire economy (not just tax policy) resulted in total personal income growth that varied between 2.8 percent and 6.7 percent.
Romney may agree with Rosen's data when it comes to wage growth. But he is now on record opposing the idea that certain exemptions and deductions would need to be eliminated above a $100,000-a-year threshold in order to make the plan work.
The situation seems to leave the Romney campaign with supportive economists, but no purely supportive academic study.
In addition to Rosen's work and Feldstein's two articles, the Romney campaign has highlighted a post by Matt Jensen of the American Enterprise Institute. But that post is primarily a rebuke of a small sliver of the Tax Policy Center analysis -- Jensen argues that, contrary the TPC, Romney could get tens of billions in revenue by eliminating the exclusion of interest on tax-exempt bonds and interest on life insurance savings. The Romney campaign's own white paper, authored by Romney-backing economists, doesn't attempt to lay out how mathematically his plan will work. Instead, it says that the former governor will "broaden the base to ensure that tax reform is revenue neutral."
Also on HuffPost:
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)
Commenting on Occupy Wall Street and the redistribution of wealth on ABC's "This Week" recently, <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/week-transcript-speaker-john-boehner/story?id=14892830&page=5#.TswHj3NPkqV" target="_hplink">House Speaker John Boehner said</a>: <blockquote>Come on. The top 1 percent pay 38 percent of the income taxes in America. You know, how much more do you want them to pay? Well, I'll tell you what: Let's take all the money that the rich have, all of it. It won't even put a dent in our current budget deficit, much less our debt.</blockquote>
Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.)
Rep. Larry Bucshon <a href="http://gcdailyworld.com/story/1786079.html" target="_hplink">said in an interview</a> with a local Indiana paper that the tax code needs to be simplified, and he invoked the Republican party line that the wealthiest Americans are creating jobs: <blockquote>I'm not for raising taxes on one sector of the economy. I think right now when you have a high unemployment and you raise taxes on the higher income earners, and they are not going to create any jobs. Arguing right now that the higher income earners aren't paying their fair share is not true. The data shows that. The top 1 percent of income earners are paying about 38 percent of the taxes. The top 10 percent are paying about 70 percent of the taxes.</blockquote>
Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.)
During an House Education and the Workforce Committee markup, <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEArFmRDtrw&feature=youtu.be" target="_hplink">Rep. Mike Kelly made a plea</a> to "stop railing against the really wealthy": <blockquote>I've got to tell you something. As a guy who has had to pay his own way his whole life, I am greatly offended by the idea that somehow somebody in Washington knows how to spend my money better than I do. That somebody in Washington knows how to regulate me to the point where I can't even borrow money anymore. You want to talk about people who are afraid? The small banks. They're scared to death to do anything. Why? Because their government has such onerous regulations on them anymore that they don't know about the rules and the regulations that have been put through or haven't even been written. So when you want to sit back and talk about these wealthy, evil people ... you want them to spend money? Make their future certain.</blockquote>
Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.)
Commenting on President Barack Obama's proposed jobs bill in September, Rep. Scott DesJarlais also <a href="http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:uHUJCTcKdokJ:www.wbir.com/rss/article/183289/2/TN-lawmakers-reaction-mixed-on-Obama-speech-+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=firefox-a " target="_hplink">used the "job creators" line</a>. The congressman argued that wealthy Americans are "shouldering the burden" by "already paying the lion's share of taxes, and taxing them more is going to hurt jobs."
Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas)
Two months ago, a handful of local Democrats protested outside Rep. Blake Farenthold's office in opposition to the proposed Buffett Rule Act, which would allow taxpayers to make donations with their income tax returns to help pay down the federal public debt. The bill was named after billionaire Warren Buffett, who has said he should be paying more in taxes. GOP lawmakers responded by suggesting wealthy Americans voluntarily donate extra money when they file their tax returns. "I think everybody is paying their fair share," <a href="http://www.kiiitv.com/story/15591779/local-democrats-stage-protest-on-congressman-farenthold" target="_hplink">Farenthold said</a>, adding, "And before we look at raising taxes on anybody, we've got to get the government spending under control. There's no point in pouring more money into something when it's hemorrhaging out the other end."
Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-N.Y.)
In March, months before the Occupy Wall Street movement arose, Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle <a href="http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2011/03/half_applaud_half_jeer_at_rep.html" target="_hplink">expressed sadness</a> at the class warfare in America. "The middle class is being screwed," said the congresswoman at a town hall meeting, but added that the wealthy aren't to blame. "Why do we have class warfare?" she said. "Why do we want to punish the rich? They worked hard for their money."
Rep. John Fleming (R-La.)
Rep. John Fleming made more than $6 million last year, according to the <em>Wall Street Journal</em>. In September on MSNBC, he <a href="http://www.rawstory.com/rawreplay/2011/09/tea-party-rep-only-400000-left-after-i-feed-my-family/" target="_hplink">used himself as an example</a> of why he opposes raising taxes on millionaires: <blockquote>The amount that I have to reinvest in my business and feed my family is more like $600,000 of that $6.3 million. And so by the time I feed my family, I have maybe $400,000 left over to invest in new locations, upgrade my locations, buy more equipment.</blockquote> MSNBC's Chris Jansing responded that the average American makes more like $40,000, $50,000 or $60,000 a year, to which Fleming responded: <blockquote>Again, class warfare never created a job. That's people that will not get jobs. This is all about creating jobs. It's not about attacking people who make certain incomes. You know, in this country most people feel that being successful in their businesses is a virtue, not a vice. And once we begin to identify it as a vice, this country is going down.</blockquote>
Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Mich.)
In August amidst the heated debate over raising the debt ceiling, Rep. Dan Benishek <a href="http://www.petoskeynews.com/news/pnr-benishek-delves-into-debt-ceiling-vote-federal-budget-during-forum-20110824,0,4643945.story" target="_hplink">addressed federal spending</a> at a public forum in Michigan. The congressman said that he would like to ease up on taxing corporations' foreign earnings and that he disagrees with raising taxes on oil companies. <blockquote>I think oil companies pay their fair share. I can understand where the oil company wants to deduct the cost of drilling a well. That's one of the tax breaks for oil companies, the subsidies. They get to deduct the cost of the well the year you drill.</blockquote>