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Give to the Rich: Romney's Tax Plan Revisited

They say it's tough to make predictions, especially about the future. But a month or two from now, I expect media outlets to look at their outlays for coverage of Herman Cain's campaign -- the thousands of dollars shelled out for plane fare, rental cars, hotels and so on -- and be appalled. In the age of contraction political coverage is increasingly a zero sum game. So much energy spent documenting what is no more than a glorified book tour: he's got three staffers in New Hampshire; in the Florida "supporters. . . are having a hard time finding anyone who works for the candidate:" and his chief economic advisor is not, in fact, an economist. As for his 9-9-9 plan about which so much ink has been spilled, you get the sense that Mr. Cain came up with the name (admittedly pithy) before he gamed out the preposterous particulars.

I don't really begrudge the boys on the bus. Clearly, the interest in Mr. Cain far exceeds his competition. But let's be realistic: he and Rick Perry will flame out -- Mr. Perry will find, as did John Kerry, that voters do not suffer catatonics -- and with them their respective flat tax proposals. All that will be left is Mitt Romney. His tax plan, introduced in September and outlined here, deserves another look.

In short, Mr. Romney's $6.6 trillion plan, weirdly titled "Believe in America", benefits only the richest sliver of Americans:

  • Extension of the Bush tax cuts Mr. Romney, not always a proponent of the cuts that slightly shrunk the top marginal rate for the wealthiest Americans, has embraced them with the vigor of a convert and now believes in "holding the line against increases in marginal tax rates." This warrior stance on behalf of the comfortable at the expense of the afflicted will cost the country $4 trillion. Mr. Romney's plan predates the Buffett Rule, President Obama's well-received attempt to increase taxes for millionaires and billionaires. He's made it quite clear he does not like it, for reasons political and maybe personal, a stance the Obama campaign has been delighted to exploit.

  • Nix estate taxes Here's an idea of how few people pay estate taxes: a town of that size would probably not have a fire department. But what will it cost to eliminate these taxes? $175 billion. That is more than double the discretionary budget for the U.S. Department of Education.

  • Capital gains Mr. Romney's proposal to do away with capital gains taxes for the middle class is a red herring. It's not risky or new -- President Obama proposed a zero capital gains rate for small business owners -- and the households making between $100,000 and $200,000 stand to pay capital gains taxes of roughly $400. Those bringing in less than $50,000 would be taxed $10, not enough to cover the cost of a movie ticket. Mr. Romney's plan may be gussied up as manna for the middle class, but it's really a porterhouse for the top 0.1 percent.

Basically, when Mitt Romney tells a crowd of supporters, "I'm not for tax cuts for the rich" and "we're not giving a windfall to the very wealthy," he's lying. Perhaps such mendacity gnaws at Mr. Romney's conscience, but it has yet to hurt him in the polls. It's the middle class, and to a greater extent the poor, who will suffer. Mr. Romney hardly pretends to give the 43 million Americans in the latter group due consideration, claiming they have "a safety net." This may explain his joke that he's "unemployed" and his willingness to call Social Security, which keeps 14 million people out of poverty, a criminal enterprise.

Mr. Romney is clearly intent on running as a defender of the middle class, and it's incumbent on the fourth estate to nail him down on the specifics. Whether or not Herman Cain's tax plan was derived from SimCity is ultimately pretty meaningless.