Home > Politics > On How the First Segment of the Debate Should Have Gone

On How the First Segment of the Debate Should Have Gone

If you watched the debate tonight, you’ll know that for what seemed like forever, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama talked in circles mostly about Romney’s tax plan and what it would or wouldn’t do to various groups of people. It started out with Barack Obama mentioning some numbers that various independent analyses have estimated based on the general premises put forward by Mitt Romney. It went on into what looked like Obama endlessly harping on numbers and facts that Romney had already shot down quickly and with acuity. Without regard as to who was right and who was wrong, the segment (and many others) clearly looked to be “won” by Romney. But before we dig into what happened/should have happened tonight, a little background is in order.

Background

The general premises of Romney’s tax plan as it has been previously outlined are as follows: he will cut rates 20% across the board (that is lower each bracket to 4/5s of its current rate); he will close loopholes and eliminate/limit deductions in order to make up for lost revenue; he will promote growth through benefits to job creators; he will not raise taxes on the middle class.

The primary independent analysis of this generalized plan found the following: that the plan would cost $5 trillion in revenue over the next ten years; that you could not eliminate enough deductions to prevent this from resulting in a tax cut for the upper class; and that the plan would either result in increases in taxes to the middle class (through deduction eliminations that exceed their rate cuts) or abandon the goal of revenue neutrality, thus expanding the deficit.

A refute of that analysis stated that the math could be made to work… if you define upper income as $100,000 or more, then those below it will see no tax increase, and those above it will be revenue neutral; of course that would be accomplished by increases for many of those making between $100,000 and $200,000 and decreases beyond that point.

It’s all complicated and full of assumptions and guesses, mostly because the plan has not been made specific enough to be accurately scored.

The Debates

Again, Barack Obama referenced the numbers from the analysis, especially the $5 trillion in lost revenue going mainly to the rich and the potential for an increase on middle class taxes. Then, Mitt Romney claimed that he would do no such thing. Romney claimed that he would not create a net reduction for upper income tax payers, and he would not enact any plan that would lose revenue once accounting for growth (I have a feeling that his growth assumptions are likely a bit fudged, but everyone gets to make assumptions). What followed was a mercilessly long back-and-forth during which Obama said “$5 trillion” at least three more times, and Romney cleverly and repeatedly made the case that no one can say what his tax plan will or will not do because it’s his plan and he will only enact a plan that does none of those things. It was difficult to watch and it should have exposed some gigantic holes through which Obama could have jumped, but didn’t.

What Should Have Happened

Let’s pick up after Romney said that any tax plan he enacted would not reduce taxes on the wealthy, would not increase taxes on the middle class and would remain revenue neutral (not cost any money). Here’s a potential Obama response:

“Ah, this is one of those etch-a-sketch moments. Look, it’s easy to look good in a debate when you argue for a plan that is completely different than the one you’ve been proposing all along. For months, we have heard you talk about helping the wealthy–you call them ‘job creators,’ and many of them are. But we know what you mean: you mean the wealthy, and you have always touted that your plan would give back to them. For months, you have stated that your plan was to cut tax rates across the board by twenty percent and make up for the lost revenue through undisclosed loophole and deduction elimination. Well, that math didn’t work out very well–it couldn’t be done. Now, you are telling us that whatever plan you enact will be one in which the math works. So let’s hear it. You’ve had more than enough time, Governor, to come up with a plan that adds up and to share it with the American people. If you want to change your plan now, for this debate, on national television, why not give us the details, and I’ll debate them.”

Romney’s response likely would have involved several of the things that he actually did say during the circular clusterfudge of dialogue. They probably would have included that many papers came out to dispute those studies, that the math did work, and that he isn’t changing his tune. In the name of specifics, he likely would have trotted out exactly what he said in the real-world debate: “one way, for instance, would be to have a single number. Make up a number — 25,000, $50,000. Anybody can have deductions up to that amount. And then that number disappears for high-income people. That’s one way one could do it. One could follow Bowles-Simpson as a model and take deduction by deduction and make differences that way.”

And then Obama could respond: “I understand that there are various reports that say various different things about Governor Romney’s tax plan and the numbers. I’ve read them, too. The ones that make Governor Romney’s math work do so by declaring those who make over $100,000 as part of the upper class, not the middle class. Now I don’t know about you, but I think that a lot of Americans making $100,000 would still consider themselves part of the middle class. A lot of them are stretched a little thin.

“I also want to point something out, and it’s important. I’ve noticed that Governor Romney talks a lot about the things that he will do or he won’t do. He says unequivocally that he will not raise taxes on the middle class. That he will repeal Obamacare ‘on day one.’ However, whenever he is asked for specifics, he doesn’t talk about himself anymore, and he doesn’t talk in absolutes. On taxes, he says ‘one could create a cap on deductions,’ and ‘one could follow Simpson-Bowles.’ He never commits himself to doing anything. He never reveals his true intentions. He doesn’t state that something should happen or will happen, but just that it could happen. Again, Governor Romney, you’ve had more than enough time to come clean with the American people on your tax plan. Do you keep the details of your plans secret because they’re too good? Is — is it because that somehow middle-class families are going to benefit too much from them?”

That last piece of sarcasm was actually an Obama quote, but I felt like when he used it nearly two-thirds of the way through the debate and mired in a rambling health care answer, it lost some of its punch. If it was a closing line in the opening segment, maybe it carries a little more weight. But what do I know?

Anyway, I was frustrated with this exchange. I thought Romney basically equivocated his way around the tax discussion and turned it into a debate about whose numbers you believe. I think that Obama should have made it about the lack of specifics and played on the tendency of Romney to say different things about his plan to different people, making him seem wishy-washy at best, pandering and dishonest at worst. That wasn’t the only part of the debate that went poorly for Barack Obama. Hopefully soon, I’ll discuss what a failure his answer about the role of government was, and lay out my own.

Advertisements
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: