Romney Losing Tax Debate To Obama, Polls Say
The Wall Street Journal takes a look at a series of recent polls, and finds that the Romney campaign has fallen behind President Obama on one of the central issues of its economic message:
Mitt Romney, who has proposed new cuts to individual and corporate taxes, has lost his recent lead over President Barack Obama on the question of which presidential candidate would best handle taxation, a reversal that turns up in several polls and presents a worrisome trend for the GOP nominee.
Republicans who favor tax cuts as a way to boost the economy, and who believe the issue should be a political winner for the GOP, are wondering why Mr. Romney hasn’t gained traction with his tax-cut plan. Some say he simply isn’t promoting it well or arguing forcefully that it would bring economic benefits.
At least four polls in recent weeks have found Mr. Obama holding an edge over Mr. Romney on who would best handle the issue of taxes. An ABC/Washington Post poll last week found Mr. Obama with a seven-point advantage on taxes among registered voters, after Mr. Romney had led in that survey in August. A Gallup poll in late August found Mr. Obama holding a nine-point lead on the issue of taxes, after Mr. Romney led in July.
Some conservatives suggest the Romney campaign hasn’t done enough to convince voters that his plan would boost economic growth.
“I think there’s an educational effort that needs to be made with the public,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former economic adviser to GOP Sen. John McCain’s 2008 campaign. “I don’t think sufficient effort has been made on that front” by the Romney campaign.
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, a group that pushes for lower taxes, said the Romney campaign “would be better off focusing more on taxes. It’s a clear winner.” Mr. Norquist said taxes and federal spending issues brought many voters to the polls for the big GOP wave of 2010 and could help the party again. “I find it hard to believe you can overplay them,” he said.
To a large degree, this seems to be occurring because the Obama campaign has effectively used negative ads to portray Romney’s tax plan would lead to big tax cuts on high income earners, while increasing them for the middle-class due to Romney’s promise to make his plan revenue neutral by balancing it out with the elimination of certain deductions and loopholes. The Romney campaign has compounded the problem by refusing to be at all specific about what deductions they are looking at. The campaign’s defense to this was stated quite clearly by Paul Ryan in an interview this weekend with conservative journalist David Brody:
David Brody: There are some conservatives that have spoken out saying they want to see some more specifics from the Romney/Ryan team and one thing that comes up, at least from the liberals is tax loopholes. Is there a reason you guys aren’t naming specific tax loopholes?
Paul Ryan: Yes because we want to get it done. Look, I’ve been on the Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. I’m very familiar with how to make successful tax reforms take place. Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil did it in 1986 but we haven’t done it since 1986 for lots of reasons, which is we don’t want to presume to say, ‘Here’s exactly our way or the highway take it or leave it Congress.’ We want to say this is our vision, lower tax rates across the board for families and small businesses and work on the loopholes that are enjoyed by the higher income earners, take away their tax shelters so more of their income is subject to taxation.
That lowers everybody’s tax rates. And we have to be able to work with Congress on those details, on how to fill it in and, more to the point, we don’t want to cut some backroom deal that they did with Obamacare where we hatched some plan behind the scenes and they spring it on the country.
We want to do this in front, in the public, through congressional hearings with Congress so that we can get to the best conclusion with a public participation. That’s the process that works the best to ultimate success gets this done. That’s why we’re doing it this way.
(Video available here)
In can understand the desire not to give away your entire game plan before beginning Congressional negotiations, but that strikes me as a bit of a weak excuse for a lack of any specificity. For one thing, before you get to the point where you’re negotiating with Congress you have to win the election and I don’t see how the Romney campaign can do that by playing “hide the ball” with their economic plan. For another, it wouldn’t be necessary for the campaign to give away their entire game plan before the election, all they would need to do is lay out a general framework of the kind of deductions and loopholes they’re thinking about here. Are they talking about the plethora of business tax credits that amount to little more than under the table subsidies? Are they talking about re-jiggering the depreciation schedules for business equipment? Or, are they looking at something far more substantial such as the home mortgage interest deduction, even in a limited way? (One suggestion I’ve heard is that the home mortgage deduction would be limited or eliminated for high income earners, and even more severely limited for second homes.) These are the kind of questions people are asking, and the kind o questions Romney and Ryan will face at their respective debates. They need to have an answer ready.