Here, CNN’s Erin Burnett takes Obama spokesperson Stephanie Cutter to task for leaving out half of Gov. Mitt Romney’s tax plan in order to claim he’s pitching a $5 trillion tax cut for the wealthy. What he has said is that he would like to lower tax rates for everyone by 20 percent, but that he would make his plan revenue-neutral by getting rid of some deductions and loopholes and producing higher economic growth. It’s perhaps understandable that members of the Obama campaign are utterly unfamiliar with the concept of higher economic growth, but simply ignoring half of Romney’s plan is dishonest.
As soon as Team Obama realized its excuse-making was getting embarrassing after the president’s debate performance, they pivoted to a replay of the response to Rep. Paul Ryan’s convention speech in Tampa. They can’t call either of them dumb, so they have to call them liars. In the service of that narrative, they either present mere philosophical disagreements as “lies” or they dishonestly represent parts of Mitt Romney’s plan to make him into a “liar.”
Until, inexplicably, the campaign’s most reliable fudger of facts decided to get all truthy when pressed by Burnett. Burnett starts pushing her at about 40 seconds, after the Obama clip.
BURNETT: Let me play this one and then get your reaction.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: When I got on to the stage, I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney. But it couldn’t have been Mitt Romney because the real Mitt Romney has been running around the country for the last year promising $5 trillion in tax cuts that favor the wealthy. The fellow on stage last night said he didn’t know anything about that.
BURNETT: Stephanie, let me ask you about that. Because here at CNN, we fact checked that, that $5 trillion in tax cuts and we’ve come and said that’s not true. Mitt Romney has not promised that. because he’s also going to be closing loopholes and deductions. So his tax cut wouldn’t be anywhere near that size.
CUTTER: So you’re disputing the size of the tax cut? Or are you disputing also how he’s going to pay for it?
BURNETT: We’re disputing the size.
CUTTER: Erin, he has campaigned on lowering tax rates by 20% for everybody, including those in the top 1%. that was one of the main selling points in the Republican primary.
BURNETT: So you’re saying if you lower them by 20% you get a $5 trillion tab, right?
CUTTER: It’s a $5 trillion tab.
BURNETT: But when he closes deductions he won’t be anywhere near $5 trillion. That’s our analysis.
CUTTER: Well with, okay, stipulated, it won’t be near $5 trillion, but it’s also not going to be the sum of $5 trillion in the loopholes that he’s going to close.
Cutter then pivots to arguing that there won’t be enough loopholes or deductions to remove from high-income earners to prevent affecting middle-income earners. That’s debatable, as both Burnett and Princeton economics professor Harvey Rosen note.
“If you are lowering the rates the way you describe, Governor, then it is not possible to come up with enough deductions and loopholes that only affect high-income individuals to avoid either raising the deficit or burdening the middle class,” Obama said. “It’s — it’s math. It’s arithmetic.”
Obama was basing his claim on a study by the Tax Policy Center, a project of the center-left Brookings Institution and Urban Institute. But there are at least three critical flaws the the TPC study: (1) it assumes pro-growth tax reform can’t actually produce economic growth, (2) it assumes two tax expenditures worth $45 billion per year are not ‘on the table’, and (3) it assumes tax reform must pay for repealing Obamacare’s tax hikes, rather than assuming that the repeal of Obamacare’s spending will pay for repealing the tax hikes. If one corrects these erroneous assumptions, the math checks out.
As Princeton economics professor Harvey Rosen writes, Romney’s plan would neither require a net tax hike on the middle class nor a tax reduction for the rich under “plausible” growth assumptions.*
The whopping growth rate required to make the math work? 2.29 percent, according to Rosen, which in a world before Obama seemed plenty plausible.
Cutter also complains that Romney hasn’t named specific deductions and loopholes, though the Tax Policy Center study on which Obama’s team is basing its claims assumes two big loopholes/deductions worth $45 billion are off the table for Romney, when they’re not.
Romney’s arithmetic and specificity are both more legitimate lines of debate than Cutter’s original distortion—ones, I might add, President Obama had more than enough opportunity to press Romney on when he was standing 7 feet from him Wednesday. Yet he declined to do so. Maybe next time, champ. But next time, Romney will have done significant work on narrowing the gap Obama had opened on the tax issue, and he’ll have Cutter’s “stipulation” in his back pocket.