Mitt Romney, under fire for not offering specifics about his tax plan, has responded by getting even less specific.
In a debate with Obama adviser Jeffrey Liebman on Monday, Romney advisor Kevin Hassett said that of course Romney's tax plan -- to cut the top income-tax rate to 28 percent without cutting taxes for the rich, raising taxes on the middle class, or increasing the federal budget deficit -- would work.
But, hey, if it didn't work, that's cool, too, Hassett said. Romney will just change the tax rate, and presto: The plan will still work, even if it is at that point technically what economists would refer to as a "different plan."
In other words, the one thing Romney has been specific about in his tax plan, that 28 percent top tax rate, is now up for debate, the Washington Post's Suzy Khimm points out:
In other words, according to Hassett, the public should assume that if Romney wants to make his tax plan work—should it prove politically or substantively impossible to implement reform as his campaign has laid out—we should assume that he would make the top rate higher than 28 percent to make the numbers add up.
This apparent shift comes after Democrats and more-neutral critics such as the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, hammered Romney relentlessly over his refusal to stipulate which loopholes he would close in order to make his tax math work.
In fact, many observers, including those in Romney's corner -- and even, sort of, Mitt Romney himself -- have come to the conclusion that the math will not work without raising taxes on the middle class.
Romney has countered that there are five "studies" that support his plan, but as Sam Stein and Zach Carter noted recently, three of these are "studies" in the same way that blog posts or op-eds are studies. Two of the studies are by the same economist and one was funded by the Romney campaign. None of them exactly clear up the picture of how Romney could make his tax math work without raising taxes on the middle class, without making some fairly stretchy assumptions, including what you mean, exactly, by "middle class."
(And then there's Bloomberg's Caroline Baum, who tells us that, maybe she's stupid, but Romney has been quietly whispering the specifics to us, all along, with his mind grapes.)
Turns out that maybe we've all been spending all this energy for nothing -- the whole tax plan is still up for discussion.
Update: The Tax Policy Center weighed in on Tuesday, with Howard Gleckman writing:
I suspect Kevin is exactly right in his prediction of which of Romney’s incompatible promises would eventually be scrapped. While other Romney advisors hint at different changes, such taxing municipal bond interest or eliminating all tax preferences for those making $100,000 or more, these seem unrealistic at best. More likely, as Kevin suggests, the rate cuts would be scaled back.
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