Katrina Trinko highlights an interesting, if somewhat back-burner item this week at National Review regarding Mitt Romney and his history on tax reform issues. Some of what she digs up is really rather startling, or at least it should be to fiscal conservatives.
In 1996, Mitt Romney was so passionately opposed to the flat tax that he took out an ad in the Boston Globe to criticize Steve Forbes’ flat tax proposal. “The Forbes tax isn’t a flat tax at all — it’s a tax cut for fat cats!” Romney, labeling himself a “concerned citizen,” wrote.
But in Plymouth, N.H., today, Romney made a statement that suggested he might be changing his position. “The proposals that I’ll be putting out this fall will talk about bringing our tax rates down, both at the corporate level and the individual level, simplifying the tax codes, perhaps with fewer brackets. The idea of one bracket alone would be even better in some respects,” Romney said.
He went on to stress that he didn’t want to provide tax cuts to the rich (which seems to have been his main concern about a flat tax back in the day), but it’s hard to see how “the idea of one bracket alone” is anything other than a flat tax.
Wow. A “tax cut for fat cats?” Was that Mitt Romney or Howard Dean talking?
This “new” position certainly does look different. But it’s always hard to tell these days when any politician begins talking about tax reform. There was a time when the meaning of that phrase was fairly unambiguous and something of a national movement formed around it. Not everyone had the same plan, mind you. Some favored a flat tax, others a national VAT. Still others invented complicated hybrids of various schemes. But all of them at least seemed to agree that the tax code as it stands today is broken, and jettisoning the entire thing might not be such a bad idea.
Today, however, the phrase “tax reform” has been adopted by a variety of groups and it always indicates secret code for one thing or another. When Obama and Joe Biden talk about “tax reform” or “closing loopholes,” it’s shorthand for additional revenue or, if you prefer, tax increases. This may be good or bad depending on your preferences, but it’s not really reform.
Further, Obama is hitting the trail this week with his laundry list of complaints about “things congress could be doing right now” if they weren’t such a hopeless bunch of political hacks. But if you listen closely, nearly every one of his proposals involve even more deductions, exemptions and changes which further complicate the tax code rather than simplifying it.
One thing remains constant. Tax reform is pretty much like the weather. Everyone likes to talk about it, (at least during campaign season) but nobody ever does much of anything about it.
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