WASHINGTON -- Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan asserted on multiple occasions Tuesday morning that the numbers behind the Romney campaign's tax plan add up.
They don't, though allied conservative groups are now rushing to help fill in the details.
The Wisconsin Republican was asked during a sit down with Bloomberg News why he was offering specifics when it came to the goodies of the tax plan -- a 20 percent across-the-board deduction of rates, a ten percent reduction of the corporate tax rates, a repeal of the estate tax -- while detailing none of the bitter pills -- the deductions and exemptions that must be eliminated to make the proposal deficit neutral.
"You don’t say to Congress, to Democrats, that you want to work with, 'Take it or leave it, it's everything, it's all my way or the highway," Ryan responded.
Pressed about a Tax Policy Center analysis which said that the Romney plan would have to raise taxes on the middle class (by eliminating their exemptions and deductions) in order to be deficit neutral, Ryan told Fox News on Sunday that he couldn't go through all the details of the tax proposal in the time allotted. But on Tuesday, he didn't get into the minutia. He just insisted that the framework put together by the campaign has been proven to work.
"Obviously," Ryan said, "the numbers add up, we have shown that."
"What we are saying is, by subjecting higher income earners' income to more taxation, remove tax shelters, lower deductions for higher income people, more of their income is subject to taxation so you can lower tax rates for everybody across the board and shelter the middle class from any kind of tax increase. There is obviously enough fiscal space to lower tax rates 20 percent, keep these middle-class preferences," Ryan added. "We have shown how that works."
The idea that the government could lower tax rates across the board and fill the gap by eliminating loopholes, deductions and exemptions isn't entirely radical. It's the basis of the tax section of the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles proposal. But to insist that the math works, one has to offer numbers. And while Ryan may argue otherwise, the Romney campaign has steadfastly refused to pinpoint the exemptions and deductions that it would be fine eliminating.
Even Romney's campaign seems to be confused about how the math will work. Last week, Kevin Hassett, a Romney economic adviser, suggested that the candidate would scale back the 20 percent tax cut if he couldn't find the deductions and exemptions to help pay for it. Shortly after, Romney told a largely middle-class crowd in Ohio that they shouldn't be expecting too much tax relief because he would be going after their exemptions and deductions.
And yet, conservative think tanks are doing their best to help provide the candidate some cover. On Tuesday, the American Enterprise Institute produced another analysis arguing that Romney could have his 20 percent cut without raising taxes on the middle class. Past studies that the Romney campaign has cited as supportive have said that exemptions and deductions on income above $100,000 would have to be eliminated in order to make the math work.
AEI insists that if you set Romney's plans for health care reform aside, the numbers are more favorable to him. AEI also argues that if "the economy were to grow just 0.1 percentage point faster per year as a result of the [Romney tax] reform" then Romney's tax plan could be revenue neutral without additional taxes on the middle class.
Neutral budget analysts would likely quibble with these assumptions. But they do represent a more detailed framework than what the Romney campaign has offered to date.