Arrow-right Camera
News >  Column

Smart Bombs: Chasing the math away

The following item is brought to you by the number 5 trillion.

The lack of specifics in Mitt Romney’s tax-cut plan has created chronic confusion. Rates lowered by 20 percent. Nobody pays higher taxes. Nobody pays lower taxes. And it doesn’t add to the deficit.

Before he kills off Big Bird, perhaps he could make an appearance on “Sesame Street” and explain it as if we were children. Because, as the song says, “One of these things is not like the other.”

[Song fades, as President Barack Obama strolls up the street. Mitt Romney meets him on a corner]

Obama: “As I’ve said, the Tax Policy Center says your 20 percent tax rate cut subtracts $5 trillion in revenue.”

Romney: “I don’t have a $5 trillion tax cut. It’s zero, after eliminating tax deductions and credits.”

Obama: “Which ones? Because even if you wiped out all the available deductions and credits for those making at least $200,000 a year, you still don’t close the $5 trillion hole.”

Romney: “What $5 trillion? My tax cuts add nothing to the deficit.”

Obama: “OK, then you must be raising taxes elsewhere.”

Romney: “My heck! I don’t raise taxes on anyone!”

[Just then, Grover pulls up in a taxi]

Grover: “Hello, sir, and welcome to Grover’s taxi. What can I do for you?”

Romney: “I want to go to the library.”

Grover: “Oh, good choice, sir. You can take home books from the library, if you bring them back, of course.”

Romney: “Actually, you don’t need to bring them back. And the library would still have the same number of books.”

[Obama storms off in disgust]

Big Bird: “OK, that’s all the time we have for today, boys and girls.”

[Theme song begins]: “Sunny day! Chasing the clouds away!”

Romney: “Not so fast, Big Bird.”

Leading indicator? So the wealthy challenger from Massachusetts rolled up big numbers in the presidential debate surveys. The Gallup Poll had him winning 53 percent to 37 percent. Among independents, he whipped the president by a 2-to-1 margin. That’s tremendous momentum heading into the homestretch.

But enough about John Kerry in 2004.

Nothin’ up my sleeve. Mysterious tax deductions and their magical powers to raise revenue is a common theme in Washington state, except the proponents are Democrats. Which breaks? Well, certainly not the big ones, such as the sales tax exemptions on food and prescriptions. Too popular.

Similarly, Mitt Romney isn’t about to invoke the largest deductions on the federal level, such as mortgage interest, pension contributions and earnings, and the tax break that subsidizes employer-provided health insurance.

I’m not against evaluating each loophole on the merits, but closing them does carry consequences. So it’s fair to ask, which ones and how much?

Anti-Family. Amazingly, the president didn’t invoke the comment from Mitt Romney that he’d given up on the 47 percent of Americans who haven’t paid income taxes. Perhaps that will embolden the politicians who have reacted to that dust-up by saying that all Americans should pay at least some income tax.

Indeed, a Fox News poll found that 79 percent of respondents agreed that everyone ought to pay this particular tax, even if it’s just a buck. Among others, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., has picked up on this theme, saying she’d repeal the earned income tax credit, which President Reagan called the greatest anti-poverty program. She says paying this tax would give everyone “skin in the game.” For some reason, the other taxes they pay don’t count.

Problem is, most Republicans have signed pledges to never raise taxes, and those contracts don’t offer an escape hatch to target poor families. Plus, to make sure the working poor pay something, millions of them would have to be shoved below the poverty line. They’d have to return the proceeds from the earned income tax credit and forgo the child tax credit. Both work to erase their tax liability.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities notes that ending those two tax breaks in 2010 would’ve pushed 8.7 million more Americans, including 4.7 million children, into poverty.

Sunny day! Chasing the clouds away!

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter: @GaryCrooks.