Political leaders love to claim fealty to the idea of “loophole-closing” tax reform, but refuse to provide details on the specific tax breaks they would eliminate. As we’ve recently noted, House Budget Chair, Rep. Paul Ryan, is one of the worst offenders when it comes to punting on specific tax breaks he’d eliminate. President Obama has also avoided naming closeable loopholes in his outline for corporate tax reform. Yes, lawmakers are glad to pose convincingly as advocates of tax reform without assuming any of the political risks involved with real loophole-closing reforms.
Earlier this month, presidential candidate Mitt Romney took a welcome departure from this pattern, signaled by the headline, “Romney Specifies Deductions He'd Cut.” The presumptive GOP nominee told a Florida audience that his plans for tax reform included eliminating the second home mortgage interest deduction for high earners.
This is a perfectly sensible reform, and is one that many tax reform advocates on both sides of the aisle (most recently, President Bush’s tax reform commission) have agreed on. It also allows us to take Romney’s tax proposals a bit more seriously, since he has said he plans to cut income tax rates by 20 percent and pay for it with (as yet unspecified) loophole-closing reforms.
A few days later, however, Romney’s campaign backed away from this reform after Newt Gingrich accused him of surrenderring to "class warfare rhetoric of the Left." This and other pushback from within his own party led one Romney surrogate to explain it this way: the candidate “was just discussing ideas that came up on the campaign trail” with some friendly donors.
This strategic retreat may make sense politically (think of all the second homes in battleground states), but it also puts Romney’s tax plan squarely in talk-is-cheap territory—asking all the easy questions but answering none of the hard ones.
Photo of Mitt Romney via Dave Lawrence Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0