Fox's Debate Fact Check On Romney Tax Proposals Misses The Point

Fox's Jim Angle trumpeted a study from the Tax Policy Center to claim that President Obama was wrong when he said that Mitt Romney's tax reform proposal raises taxes on middle-income households. In fact, in two different assessments of Romney's proposals, TPC has maintained that his plan would result in higher taxes for middle class Americans.

On Happening Now, Angle asserted that while an earlier study from the center corroborated Obama's assertion, TPC “later issued a clarification” that “concluded that there is no reason why a reform proposal, quote, 'would have to raise taxes on middle-class households.' ”

But the authors of that second TPC study -- which explored what would happen if Romney outlined two additional deductions and loopholes to close -- affirmed their earlier conclusion that Romney's tax proposals would necessitate raising taxes on middle-income households:

A recent TPC paper examined tradeoffs among revenues, progressivity and tax rates in tax reform. It concluded that, under certain assumptions, any revenue-neutral plan along the lines Governor Romney has outlined would reduce taxes for high-income households, thus requiring higher taxes on other, even if the plan's financing is as progressive as possible, given the available tax expenditures.

This paper addresses questions about that study and discusses new estimates that incorporate the taxation of municipal bond interest and the taxation of inside buildup in life insurance vehicles. These additions do not change the basic results.

TPC went on to add: “Adding these two provisions to Governor Romney's list of tax preferences potentially on the chopping block would thus not reverse the basic conclusion of our paper: simultaneously pursuing the five goals noted above would make the tax system less progressive, even if the tax expenditures used to finance the proposals are reduced in the most progressive way possible.”

In its original study, TPC had similarly stated that “a revenue-neutral individual income tax change that incorporates the features Governor Romney has proposed ... would provide large tax cuts to high-income households, and increase the tax burdens on middle- and/or lower-income taxpayers.”

But there is one crucial point Angle appears to have missed in his rush to indict Obama using TPC's supposed final verdict on Romney's tax goals.

Angle claimed that TPC said Romney's proposals wouldn't necessitate raising taxes on middle-class households and that, in fact, “there is no reason why a reform proposal, quote, 'would have to raise taxes on middle-class households.' ”

But with that quote, the center was actually making the point that Romney's tax plan cannot remain revenue neutral without also including such offsets as raising taxes on the middle class:

We also emphasize that the various goals of tax reform are achievable, but there are tradeoffs among revenues, lower tax rates, and progressivity. For example, if Governor Romney eventually specifies a full tax reform proposal that is not revenue-neutral and/or that raises taxes on some forms of saving and investment, there is no a priori reason why that full-reform proposal would have to raise taxes on middle-class households. [emphasis added]

Indeed, what TPC did in both studies was look at Romney's tax plan as laid out on his campaign website. Because Romney has not issued a detailed plan -- his plan relies on the elimination of unspecified tax deductions and loopholes -- TPC filled in the blanks in a way that made “the resulting tax system as progressive as possible.” This means the studies were configured to keep taxing the higher-income earners as much as possible and the lower-income earners as little as possible -- all the while adhering to Romney's primary goal of not adding to the deficit.

In both cases, however, TPC realized that Romney's tax plan as proposed would raise taxes on middle-income Americans.