Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Romney will be at pains not to "flatten" the middle class

Jamelle Bouie is confident that Romney will respond to Perry's flat tax proposal with one of his own:
Of course, with prominent Republicans pushing for a flat tax, it’s likely that Romney will relent and release his own proposal for instituting a single income tax rate. As The Times writes, “Lately…his tone has been more positive. ‘I love a flat tax,’ he said in August.”
 Jamelle, I'm going to have to bump Romney-readings with you.

For starters, the Times clipped that quote (while highlighting that Romney's core objection to a flat tax -- that it would raise taxes on the middle class -- cannot really be evaded). The Daily Caller felt called upon to point out the elision:
“You know, I love a flat tax,” Romney said at a town hall meeting in August, the origin of the quote used by the Times. “There’s a lot about a flat tax that works, but it means different things to different people, and this is the key for me — I want to make sure that we don’t … end up giving a break to certain groups of people and not to others.”

Romney goes on to say he doesn’t want to raise taxes on middle income Americans and says “there are some tax proposals that are called a flat tax that I don’t agree with, because they end up being huge breaks for the highest income Americans, of which I happened to have been one — still am.”

“I’m not looking for a tax break for me,” Romney continued. “But I want to make sure we keep taxes as low as possible for middle-income Americans who want to get rich because it is them — it is the entrepreneurial spirit of the great majority of Americans — that allows us to have the vitality, economically, that has propelled us to where we are.”
For those who have watched recent GOP debates, Romney's tender midsummer concern for the middle class will sound familiar.  In transcripts of the last two debates, Vegas and Dartmouth,  the term "middle class" comes up seven times. Four of the uses are Romney's two are Paul's, one Huntsman's. In the most recent debate, Romney used Cain's 9-9-9 plan -- the focal point of the extended opening exchange -- to center his pitch to the middle:
I like your chutzpah on this, Herman, but I have to tell you, the analysis I did, person by person, return by return, is that middle- income people see higher taxes under your plan. If it’s lower for the middle class, that’s great, but that’s not what I saw. I have to tell you, I want to get our burden down on our employers, on our people. I want to make sure our regulations work to encourage the private sector, as opposed to put a damper on it. I want to get trade opening up new markets for America.
There, Romney positioned himself as champion of the middle class against the right.  In the Dartmouth debate, Romney invoked the middle class to fend off what passes in our insane political landscape as "the left" -- raising any new revenue at all as part of deficit reduction efforts:

You have to stand by your principles. At the same time, you know that good Democrats and good Republicans who love the country first will be able to find common ground from time to time and recognize we can’t keep on spending like we’re spending.

We can’t demand more from tax revenue from people, because that kills jobs and hurts working families. We have got to help the middle class in this country.       The only way that’ll come together is if you have people on both sides of the aisle who will listen to a leader who has the experience of leading. And that’s what America’s looking for and desperately longing for.
I  have to credit Romney's gall and guile.  In the name of the middle class, he's repositioned "no new taxes ever -- but no flat tax either" -- as the political center.  Above, he's claiming he'll compromise with Democrats by convincing them that the U.S. can't raise any new revenue ever.

Though Romney will resist raising taxes on the rich in the name of job creation, one detail in his economic plan gives him a rhetorical opening to suggest that he's being tough on the rich: his proposal to cut the capital gains tax only for those earning less than $200,000. In Dartmouth, Gingrich tossed him a softball, asking why he excluded those who earn the great bulk of capital gains.Cue the middle class violin:

Well, the reason for giving a tax break to middle- income Americans is that middle-income Americans have been the people who have been most hurt by the Obama economy. The reason you’re seeing protests, as you indicated, on Wall Street and across the country is middle-income Americans are having a hard time making ends meet. Not only do we have 25 million people out of work or stopped looking for work, or in part-time jobs needing full-time employ, we just saw this week that median income in America has declined by 10 percent during the Obama years. People are having a hard time making ends meet.    

And so if I’m going to use precious dollars to reduce taxes, I want to focus it on where the people are hurting the most, and that’s the middle class. I’m — I’m not worried about rich people; they’re doing just fine. The very poor have a safety net; they’re taken care of. But the people in the middle, the hard-working Americans, are the people who need a break, and that’s why I focus my tax cut right there.
Again, breathtaking. Romney manages all at once to blame the income drop on Obama, give Occupy Wall Street a gingerly pat, and disown any intention of helping the rich feather their nests -- all while advocating revenue-neutral deficit reduction that would necessarily gut entitlements and discretionary social spending.

Perhaps a serious setback in the polls or primaries will push Romney to somehow contort himself into flat tax support. But for now, he's trying to position himself for the general election, staying as far left as he thinks the Republican funhouse mirror will allow.

1 comment:

  1. With the exception of John Huntsman, the GOP presidential candidates are engaging in a bizarre performance art.

    A true patriot would find this deeply concerning. However, to a political observer, it is breathtakingly fascinating.

    Let us pray for this country.