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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Romney Tax Plan as Budget Busting as Ever

Seriously, I could just re-post my February 27th post word for word tonight and it would be just as true as it was then. The Romney tax plan blows a $5 trillion hole in the budget via tax reductions and he still hasn't told us anything about the tax breaks he would get rid of to pay for it, which he has to do because he calls it revenue neutral, as he did again in tonight's debate.

Amazingly, Romney kept denying that his tax reductions reduce revenue by $5 trillion over 10 years when considered by themselves, even accusing the President of lying about it! He kept insisting that his plan was revenue neutral and that he would not adopt a plan that would reduce the share of taxes paid by the rich. Trust him. We have his word on it.* (Apparently, that is how CNN does fact-checking.)

Given his insistence on his proposal's revenue neutrality, let me repeat my 5-step plan, "How to Read a Republican Tax Proposal."

Step 1: Assume revenue neutrality.
Step 2: Look at what income is no longer taxed.

In the Romney plan, according to conservative economist Josh Barro, there is a $1 trillion reduction in corporate income tax, $3 trillion from the 20% reduction in tax rates (again, not 20 percentage points: the top rate falls from 35% to 28%), and $1 trillion from miscellaneous tax reductions, notably abolishing the Alternative Minimum Tax.

Step 3: Determine how much of that income you have.
Step 4: Ask what taxes have to be raised to get to revenue neutrality.
Step 5: Look in the mirror to see who pays them.

That would be the end of the story, except that the Romney budget is also raising military spending by $2 trillion, as the President pointed out in the debate. So that has to be offset, too.

Again, the bottom line is that if we cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations, it will impact the budget elsewhere, in some combination of tax increases on the middle class, program cuts, and deficit increases. Regardless of the spin surrounding it, if a proposal reduces some taxes but doesn't reduce your taxes, you will lose out via these three methods of compensating for the lost revenue.

* If you aren't old enough to remember, this is a reference to a great series of Isuzu car and truck ads featuring "Joe Isuzu," whose signature line was "You have my word on it."

Monday, October 1, 2012

Conservative Refutation of Butler/Heritage Health Care Revisionism Continues

The pile-on continues. As I discussed in February, Stuart Butler of the Heritage Foundation wrote a breath-taking op-ed in USA Today (via Don Taylor) denying that he fathered the individual mandate. In fact, his revised 140-page research paper was published January 2, 1989, before President George HW Bush came into office, let alone President Clinton, whose proposals Butler says his research was directed against. Two conservatives, Avik Roy of Forbes and James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal, played strong roles in locking down the point that Butler was the first to propose the mandate.

Today, J.D. Kleinke of the American Enterprise Institute goes straight to that 1989 report in a New York Times opinion piece to once again lay the mandate at the feet of Heritage. And why not? According to him, the Affordable Care Act is a conservative's dream.
The rationalization and extension of the current market is financed by the other linchpin of the law: the mandate that we all carry health insurance, an idea forged not by liberal social engineers at the Brookings Institution but by conservative economists at the Heritage Foundation. The individual mandate recognizes that millions of Americans who could buy health insurance choose not to, because it requires trading away today’s wants for tomorrow’s needs. The mandate is about personal responsibility — a hallmark of conservative thought.
 Kleinke argues that Romney's incoherence on health care stems precisely from rejecting his accomplishment in Massachusetts. Romney can't offer anything better than the ACA because it is the only conservative way to overcome the problems of the health care market while remaining based on the market and individual responsibility. With no single payer and no public option, it is not surprising that, as he puts it, "the health insurance industry has been quietly supporting the plan all along."

Aside from his odd notion that single payer represents a "government takeover of health care" (Canada's Medicare is not the United Kingdom's National Health Service), Kleinke's column is on the money: historically, the mandate was developed by Heritage economists, the ACA more broadly relies on conservative rather than liberal principles, and many liberals have been unenthusiastic for just that reason. Heck, I'm unenthusiastic (single payer!). But it's a big improvement over the status quo that is already providing benefits to millions of people, whether for young adults, the millions of consumers getting rebates due to the medical loss ratio rule, or for seniors getting rid of the donut hole and gaining free preventive care.