Republicans have been defending Mitt Romney's tax plan using an analysis from the American Enterprise Institute that was described in a recent Romney ad as a "nonpartisan" study.
But although the AEI maintains that it doesn't take partisan positions and that it has a very strict standard of scholarly integrity, the D.C. think-tank, typically supports conservative positions, and its list of "visiting scholars" includes two advisers to the Romney campaign, Glenn Hubbard and Gregory Mankiw, a blogger for the Bridge Project noted in a recent post.
The Bridge Project post pointed out that Alex Brill, the author of the analysis, is an AEI research fellow who served on former President George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, which Hubbard and Mankiw both chaired. In his defense of Romney's tax plan, which first appeared as a blog on the AEI website Oct. 1, Brill refuted an argument advanced by William Gale of the Tax Policy Center, which is the most widely cited source for the contention that Romney's tax cuts would either hurt the middle class or increase the national deficit.
Gale's conclusions, found that there was no way Romney could keep all of his various tax-cut promises without either raising more revenues by taxing the middle class or by sinking the country further into debt. Brill argued that Gale failed to account for certain mitigating factors, including the possibility that Romney's tax cuts would boost economic growth and therefore add more revenue to the government's balance sheet, lessening the need for a middle-class tax hike. Brill also suggested that Romney could increase revenues by imposing new taxes on investments and savings.
Gale, asked about Brill's argument, pointed to a blog he wrote in response to Brill and other critics. "After decades of these same outlets claiming that taxes on saving and investment are bad for the economy," he wrote in the post, "scholars at AEI, Heritage, some academics and the Wall Street Journal editorial page appear lined up behind higher taxes on some forms of interest income, and removal of tax-deferral on some long-term saving products, as a way to finance part of the Romney tax plan. This is an interesting development and should be pursued.
"To be clear, though, pursuing this policy wouldn't be refuting our earlier study, it would be accepting the constraints and conclusions there and finding a way around them."
As for whether the study qualifies as nonpartisan, "I call 'em like I see 'em," wrote Alex Brill in an email.
Véronique Rodman, a spokesperson for AEI, elaborated. "AEI does not have an institutional position and each scholar is free to do their own research. We have common bonds: Everybody believes in free enterprise and strong markets and competition. We also have very strict guidelines as to campaigns, which are posted on our website."
The Romney campaign didn't respond to a request for a comment.