Until a few weeks ago, Mitt Romney was on TV every day telling us how, as president, he'd cut all our tax rates and balance the budget and pay for it all by taking away unspecified tax deductions. Then we all voted and Romney lost. But just because a man loses an election doesn't mean his ideas should be rejected too, right? That's the thinking of Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin, who championed Romney's plan during the campaign and isn't quite ready to give up on Romney's tax vision.
"A better way to sell tax reform," reads the headline to Rubin's November 26 blog post arguing that Republicans should be arguing for "broadening the tax base" as part of a "pro-growth" tax reform plan. How do they do that? Take a page from the book of Mitt -- cut rates, scrap deductions, and (amusingly enough) enlist Paul Ryan to argue the case:
One way to sweeten the pot for middle-class families, as Pethokoukis points out, is to scrap nearly all deductions, lower rates and replace "the child credit, the child-care credit, and the adoption credit with one new $4,000 credit per child that can be used to offset both income and payroll taxes."
The amount of additional revenue raised from tax reform, which in large part derives from spurring growth and making the tax code more efficient, should matter less to Republicans than how it is achieved. A tax deal that reduces government distortion of the economy and spurs a recovery, while also raising a great deal of revenue, should be preferable over a deal that raises less revenue (largely because of tax avoidance schemes) by raising rates for the "rich" and preserving the rest of the current, complicated tax code.
The argument does not sell itself, however. Able GOP leaders like Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) should step forward to lay out the party's tax views, making clear this is not about sparing the "rich" but about reform, simplification and economic growth.
Of course, Paul Ryan already championed this vision of tax reform while on the campaign trail with Romney. During a September 30 interview on Fox News Sunday, in which he famously begged off explaining the details of Romney's tax plan because "it would take me too long to go through all of the math," Ryan laid it out:
RYAN: You can lower tax rates 20 percent across the board by closing loopholes and still have preferences for the middle class for things like charitable deductions, home purchases, for health care. What we're saying is people are going to get lower tax rates and therefore they will not send as much money to Washington.
The big difference here seems to be a newfound willingness to get specific as to which deductions will disappear, now that there is no immediate concern over turning off the voting blocs who benefit from those deductions. But the principle remains the same -- cut rates, eliminate deductions, insist on revenue neutrality, and assume it will all work out.
It's the Romney plan, sans-Romney. And if you go by the theory that Romney lost not because of his policies but because he was a personally flawed candidate, then rehashing the tax argument in the post-Romney era at least makes some political sense, even if the math still doesn't work.