Tired of calling on Mitt Romney to flesh out what tax loopholes he would close to pay for his large tax cuts, President Obama has taken a new tack: warn middle class voters of the worst, and goad the Republican nominee into proving him wrong.
It’s a lose-lose proposition for Romney, who is trailing Obama in key battleground states with Election Day just weeks away, because any answer would invite further criticism.
In separate campaign trail speeches late last week, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden implied that Romney would raise taxes on middle class homeowners and Social Security recipients to cover the cost of his promised across-the-board 20 percent cut in income tax rates.
“I refuse to ask middle class families to give up your deduction for owning a home or raising kids just so we pay for another millionaire’s tax cut,” Obama said Thursday in Virginia Beach. His campaign confirmed that he was promising not to limit the deductability of home mortgage interest, a popular and expensive tax expenditure enjoyed by many in the middle class.
Friday in Boca Raton, Fla., Biden plainly asserted that Romney would unwind the tax exemption on Social Security income for the elderly.
“If Governor Romney’s plan goes into effect it could mean that every one of you would be paying more taxes on your Social Security,” Biden said on the stump. “The average senior would have to pay $460 a year more in taxes for their Social Security.”
The president and vice president couldn’t offer proof because there isn’t any: Romney has steadfastly refused to specify any tax credits or deductions he would target in order to pay for his trillions of dollars in tax cuts. But his contradictory promises — to cut taxes on the middle class without raising them on the rich or increasing the deficit — have earned criticism as to whether his proposal is mathematically feasible. Studies have found that it is not — unless middle class incomes are defined downward from the agreed-upon $250,000.
On the Sunday talk shows, the Romney campaign continued to struggle to answer questions about how the tax math would work. On “Fox News Sunday,” vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan said “it would take [him] too long to go through all of the math.” On NBC’s “Meet The Press,” Romney surrogate and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie retorted that Romney has laid out his broad vision but “[h]e’s not an accountant.”
The Obama campaign’s new approach is an attempt to force him to take a stand on whether popular middle-class tax loopholes are at least on the chopping block if he’s elected. There’s no convenient answer for the Republican candidate: taking them off the table would further chip away at the credibility of his plan, while leaving them on the table could alienate middle class homeowners and seniors from his campaign.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.