Mitt Romney made a pretty dramatic addition to his tax plan during the early portion of Wednesday night's first presidential debate, insisting that he would lower tax rates to the extent he could find tax hikes to pay for it.
The former governor repeated on several occasions that he did not have a $5 trillion tax reduction plan, which has been widely reported for many months now. Instead, he said, he would only lower the tax rates to the extent that he could find deductions and exemptions to eliminate that would, in turn, pay for the across-the-board tax deduction.
"I'm not looking for a $5 trillion tax cut," he said. "What I've said is I won't put in place a tax cut that adds to the deficit ... I will not add to the deficit."
This means, in all likelihood, that Romney won't be able to achieve a 20-percent, across-the-board reduction, as he has advertised since the middle of the Republican primary. He stressed that he wouldn't eliminate deductions and exemptions for middle-class earners. But even the studies that he cites as supportive insist that he'd have to do so in order to make his math work.
President Barack Obama, looking on, seemed surprised by the abrupt change in policy.
"Now ... he is saying that his big, bold idea is 'never mind.' The fact is if you are lowering the rates the way you describe governor, it is not possible to come up with enough deductions or loopholes," Obama said. "It is math. It is arithmetic."