On Monday, Mitt Romney suggested that a $17,000 cap on itemized deductions might be one way to keep the tax code’s current progressivity. Three Romney advisers told me last night and this morning that this is not “the” way to accomplish that end, but rather one idea. One adviser laid out three options.
First, the plan could cap itemized deductions at $17,000 or $18,000 of income, allow the personal exemption and keep (or create) some special tax treatment for health-care expenses (e.g., a refundable credit, a health care account).
Second, the cap could be in the form of a percentage of income.
Third, as was the case in the 1986 tax reform effort, you could eliminate credits, exclusions and deductions for upper-income taxpayers.
The adviser did not give any details as to whether all or some of these options would be retained.
He confirmed that Romney would be looking for a one-year extension of the Bush tax cuts until the Romney plan could be passed.
The Romney campaign’s effort to show more detail on his tax plan is clearly aimed not so much at satisfying media critics who want a complete list of “base broadeners” as it is in assuring middle-class voters that the president is not telling them the truth about a planned middle-class tax hike.
It is not clear why the Romney team didn’t offer up some of this information earlier. The House Budget Committee, after all, put out some time ago showing that tax “expenditures” are used overwhelmingly by the wealthy (Chart 8).
It is clear that Romney intends to go on offense on taxes as well, using the American Enterprise Institute and Douglas Holtz-Eakin studies to make the point that the middle-class tax hike will come from Obama’s debt accumulation. Prepare to hear a lot about that $4,000 tax hit for families making as little as $30,000.
Obama may object that he already has a $4 trillion plan to reduce the debt. But this has been widely called out as a sham. Again, the House Budget Committee has a useful guide to debunk Obama’s plan. It explains:
Despite claims that the President has a $4 trillion deficit reduction plan, the President’s own budget shows only a $2 trillion reduction in the deficit over 10 years, while the debt increases by $11 trillion.
• After removing gimmicks and using CBO data, the President’s budget shows only $577 billion in deficit reduction over 10 years.
• In contrast of the claim of $2.50 in spending reductions for every $1 in tax increases, the President’s own budget actually shows $20 in tax increases for every $1 dollar in spending cuts.
• After removing gimmicks, the President’s budget would actually increase spending by 83 cents for every $1 it raises in new taxes.
In short, Romney intends to make the case that his tax plan will be pro-growth and not hurt the middle class while the inevitable result of Obama’s borrowing and spending will mean a tax hike (and worse economy) for the middle class. Can he get this out in a debate? We’ll see if he begins that tutorial tonight.