“Mitt Romney’s plan? A new $250,000 tax cut for millionaires …increase military spending…adding trillions to the deficit. Or President Obama’s plan? A balanced approach …Four trillion in deficit reduction.”
— Voiceover in a new Obama campaign ad
In just 30 seconds, this new Obama campaign ad covers a lot of ground, evoking images of the George W. Bush administration (“two wars …tax cuts for millionaires”), tying presumed GOP nominee Mitt Romney to those policies and then ending with positive words for President Obama’s plans. (There’s even an amazing shot of a super-millionaire’s home.)
At least the ad is about policy differences, rather than the usual campaign fare of outsourcing, Bain and verbal gaffes. Let’s take a deeper look.
The Obama campaign has to perform some leaps of logic because, frankly, the Romney campaign has not explained how his budget and tax numbers add up. Romney has proposed to cut tax rates, but keep revenue neutral with unspecified offsets, while also boosting defense spending while reducing the deficit through largely unspecified cuts. Pinning down the actual figures is a bit like nailing Jello to a wall.
Many experts would say Romney’s proposals are simply mathematically impossible, unless one engages in budget gimmicks, such as assuming tax cuts will largely pay for themselves. A new study released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center concluded that, even accounting for higher economic growth, there is no way for Romney to meet his targets without also boosting taxes on middle and lower income taxpayers.
The Romney campaign rejected the analysis, saying it had “gaps,” such as not including the potential impact from corporate tax reforms advocated by Romney. Still, the analysis said that the average tax cut for a taxpayer making more than $1 million would be about $87,000 — much lower than the ad’s claim of $250,000.
So how does the Obama campaign come up with a figure of $250,000? The campaign cites an earlier Tax Policy Center study that did not include an effort to consider the possible tax loopholes and credits that Romney could eliminate in an effort to keep his tax reforms revenue neutral. The study is even headlined: “Romney Tax Plan without Unspecified Base Broadeners.”
Now, of course, the Obama campaign ad was prepared before the new analysis was released, so we can’t ding it for that. But campaign officials presumably knew that it was an incomplete picture. After all, the White House had earlier calculated that a similar House Republican plan would result in a $107,000 tax break for the wealthy after eliminating every possible tax loophole.
(Note: After the study was released, Obama adjusted his language in speeches Wednesday to say that people making more than $3 million would get a $250,000 tax cut.)
The same dynamic holds true for the ad’s claim that Romney’s plans would add “trillions to the deficit.”
The Obama campaign cites studies that show Romney’s tax cuts — without the unspecified offsets — would add to the deficit. In theory, however, Romney’s economic plan would dramatically reduce spending, since he proposes a cap at 20 percent of the gross domestic product (down from the current 24 percent). But that would require at least $600 billion in annual budget cuts, and he identifies less than $300 billion, including $60 billion from that old budget gimmick — reduce waste and fraud.
Meanwhile, Obama plays his own budget games. The claim that his budget reduces the deficit by $4 trillion is simply laughable. The figure includes counting some $1 trillion in cuts reached a year ago in budget negotiations with Congress. So no matter who is the president, the savings are already in the bank.
Moreover, the administration is also counting $848 billion in phantom savings from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, even though the administration had long made clear those wars would end. There are a number of other games being played, so fake money is being used to pay for real spending projects. In effect, most of Obama’s claimed deficit reduction comes from his proposed tax increases. (We wrote about this in more detail in a previous column.)
The Pinocchio Test
With incomplete figures and an unbalanced analysis, the Obama campaign is casting Romney’s economic plan in the worst possible light while putting an unwarranted sheen on the president’s proposals.
Romney’s continued failure to provide enough specifics about his plans certainly lets the Obama campaign openly speculate about the impact. The president, by contrast, is required to present a real budget with actual figures — but as we have shown, he can still play budget tricks to make the numbers add up. So even more detail from Romney might not make the budget dispute any clearer.
Check out our candidate Pinocchio Tracker
Track each presidential candidate's campaign ads