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Where’s The Beef (Part 3)

September 10, 2012

If you’ll indulge some self-congratulation, I’ll brag that I commented early on that Mitt Romney was running a content-free presidential campaign.  Back in May, I asked of Romney, Where’s The Beef?  The lack of policy substance has since become a prominent theme of media coverage of the Romney-Ryan campaign.

The centerpiece of the Romney-Ryan campaign is that Republicans can handle the economy better than President Obama has.  But today’s New York Times has two telling analyses of the critical lack of policy meat in the Romney-Ryan economic platform.

In today’s “Washington Memo,” headlined “Romney’s Tax Plan Leaves Key Variables Blank,” Annie Lowrey and David Kocieniewski ask whether the Romney tax plan will help or hurt the middle class.  The answer is, more or less, Who knows?

The Romney tax plan is founded on three promises:  marginal tax rates will be cut by 20 percent; total tax revenue will remain the same; and middle class taxes will not go up.  The problem is that no economist, right, left or center, can figure out how it’s possible to keep all three of those promises.

Reduction of the top tax rate from 35 to 28 percent will drastically reduce revenue.  Romney promises to make up that revenue by eliminating tax deductions – but he won’t say which deductions he would eliminate.  Economists calculate that in order to maintain revenue neutrality, so many tax deductions would have to be eliminated that middle class families’ taxes would go up an average of $2,000 per year.  The Romney campaign denies this, but has not as yet been moved to explain how Romney will decrease marginal tax rates and maintain revenue neutrality without eliminating tax deductions like home mortgage interest that the middle class depends on.

Over on the opinion pages, Thomas Edsall wrote today’s “Campaign Stops” post, headlined “The Ryan Sinkhole.”  Edsall tries to figure out how Paul Ryan will keep his promise to cut $897 billion from discretionary spending in the federal budget.  Ryan’s budget proposal leaves most of those cuts “unexplained and unspecified.”

Edsall calculates that much of those cuts would have to come from popular programs like education, food and drug inspection, workplace safety, environmental protection and law enforcement.  Voicing his frustration at the lack of critical information about the Republican budget plan, Edsall quotes Ryan himself:

We will not duck the tough issues.  We will not kick the can down the road. . . .  We will lead.  We will not blame others for four years; we will take responsibility and fix this country’s problems.

Romney and Ryan chose to make the economy the centerpiece of their campaign.  They promised not to “duck the tough issues.”  But the plain fact is, no one can tell what their economic proposals are.

Paul Krugman has yet a third piece in today’s Times, called “Obstruct and Exploit.”  It’s about how the Republicans refused to support President Obama’s Jobs Act, then blamed the President for the relatively slow job creation since the financial crisis ended in 2009.  But that’s a subject for a different post.

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