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Team Romney’s latest lame excuse on tax plans

Here’s a recent iteration of the excuse, as offered by Paul Ryan.

I don’t know if, at tonight’s debate, Mitt Romney will end his refusal to specify the deductions, credits and other tax preferences he would eliminate in order to balance his tax proposal. I’m sure he will be asked about it, but he’s been asked many times and hasn’t been willing to specify a single one.

The current excuse for not specifying is extremely lame, but Team Romney has been trying to get by with it for several weeks now. Here’s a recent iteration of the excuse, as offered by veep nominee Paul Ryan yesterday to Bloomberg News:

Here’s my experience from 12 years on Ways and Means, for moving bipartisan legislation. Here’s Mitt Romney’s experience as a Republican governor of a Democratic state. You don’t say to Congress, to Democrats that you want to work with, “Take it or leave it, it’s everything, it’s all my way or the highway.” You say, “Here’s my framework. Obviously, the numbers add up. We’ve shown that. Let’s work together to establish that framework.” And it’s not as much as what’s in the tax code, as who gets it. And what we’re saying is, by subjecting higher-income earners’ income to more taxation — meaning lower — remove tax shelters, lower deductions for higher-income people, more of their income is subject to taxation so you can lower tax rates for everybody across the board and shelter the middle class from any kind of tax increase.

There’s clearly fiscal space for important preferences for middle-class people like purchasing a home, or donating to charities, or health care and things like that. And so the key is, start with the high-income earner and then start with the special interest stuff. And there’s obviously enough fiscal space to lower tax rates 20 percent, keep these middle-class preferences. We’ve shown how that works.

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This is pretty pitiful and I feel kind of sorry for Ryan, who used to enjoy a reputation as someone who was brave and intellectually honest enough to offer more specifics than the average politicians. (Yes, I know there were always unanswered questions in his big budget documents. But on the curve of politicians being willing to be honest about painful tradeoffs, he used to rank pretty high.)

Forgive me if you had already worked this out for yourself, but here’s the problem with the don’t-worry-it-will-all-be-worked-out-in-negotiations-with-Congress-later dodge. No one is asking Romney-Ryan for a final take-or-leave-it offer. What open-minded voters want and deserve is the opening offer with enough details that we can assess whether the numbers add up and whether the general shape of the new slimmed down tax code is a good idea.

The idea that we can’t know any details (other than the starting point of a 20 percent across-the-board rich-people-will-get-much-more-out-of-it-than-poor-people cut in tax rates) because that would – what, prevent you from negotiating with Congress later? – is ludicrous.

It’s a little like a car salesman asking you to sign the purchase agreement before he will answer any questions about the car. And when you ask does the car have a working carburetor, he replies: “There clearly enough fiscal space for that and we can work that out after you sign the agreement.”