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“Mystical Economic Pixie Dust”: The Tax Trap Springs Shut On Romney

It’s all too easy to hyperventilate about the importance of this or that campaign development in an electorate where swing voters are few and pay little attention to the news, but Mitt Romney appears to have blundered his way into a bona fide political disaster with his tax plan. Republican policy elites and fund-raisers fervently believe, for both moral and economic reasons, in the paramount necessity of cutting taxes for the rich. This position is, however, a political trap; the vast majority of Americans want taxes on the rich to be higher, not lower, and the commitment to cutting taxes on the rich further requires larger entitlement cuts or higher middle class taxes, both of which are more unpopular still.

At the outset of his campaign, Romney tried to avoid committing himself, but by February, with GOP rivals outflanking him and facing steady pressure from Republican elites, he declared himself in favor of a 20 percent tax cut, a move greeted with joy from anti-tax activists. But he still attempted to hide the ball. Romney promised that his rate cut would be matched by closing tax deductions and some unspecified allowance for economic growth, and thus would not decrease the level (or the share) of taxes paid by the rich. Romney’s boast that his plan could not be scored revealed the essential calculation. But the campaign miscalculated. Yesterday’s study by the Brookings Institution and the Tax Policy Center showed that, even allowing for the faster growth predicted by Romney’s own economist, there aren’t enough tax deductions to account for the cost of the lower rates for the rich — raising taxes for the middle class would be the only way to make Romney’s promises add up. Romney didn’t hide the ball well enough.

Obama has already unleashed an ad making the simple and devastating point that Romney is proposing to cut taxes of people like himself and raise them on the vast majority of the public:

Romney’s play here is to turn the study’s findings into a matter of partisan dispute. It has mustered two arguments. The first is that the Brookings study cannot be trusted because its authors are biased. (Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom called the study a “joke.”) The Weekly Standard pushes this line, noting that one of its authors visited the White House twelve times. Unfortunately, Romney’s campaign itself once cited the Tax Policy Center (accurately) as “objective,” and its findings are basically simple math.

Romney’s second argument is more convoluted. The study examined the effects of Romney’s income tax proposals. He has also promised to reform the corporate tax code. Romney policy advisor Lanhee Chen argued yesterday that Romney corporate tax reforms could increase economic growth even more. So, even though the study allowed for optimistic growth assumptions of the income tax cuts, it didn’t also allow for optimistic assumptions of the corporate tax cuts.

Of course, Romney doesn’t really have a corporate tax reform plan. He says basically the same thing everybody says. The corporate tax code is filled with deductions and loopholes. The statutory rate (35 percent) is unusually high by international standards, but the effective rate is unusually low. We could lower the rate to, say, 28 percent, close a bunch of deductions and loopholes, and have a fairer tax code. That’s what Romney endorses, and it’s also what Obama endorses.

But the whole trick here is assembling an actual legislative coalition to pass a tax reform plan. The whole problem is that companies that benefit from loopholes and deductions lobby to keep them. Romney isn’t offering a policy blueprint for what deductions he would take away, let alone a plausible scenario to pass such a plan even if it did exist. He’s just using the mystical economic pixie dust of the nonexistent corporate tax reform plan in order to hold out the hope of some missing ingredient, some unmeasurable X factor, to keep his proposal in the safe dreamworld where the cruel tyranny of math cannot apply.

But the math is inescapable. When Romney looks back at the positions he adopted during the Republican primary — the hard line on immigration, the embrace of Paul Ryan — his pander to supply-siders may loom as his largest mistake.


By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intel, August 2, 2012

August 3, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is Paul Ryan’s Medicare A Voucher System Or Not: Who Is Demagoguing Who?

During the White House meeting this week between President Obama and the Republican leadership, Rep. Paul Ryan took the President to task for demagoguing Ryan’s proposed Medicare changes.

According to the Congressman, the insistence on the part of the President- and his brother and sister Democrats – that the program is a voucher system rather than the ‘premium support’ program Ryan steadfastly claims the idea to be, is grossly misleading Americans, all for the purpose of political gain.

While Ryan’s confrontation with Obama brought cheers from the GOP freshman class who fill the corridors of Congress these days, the question that needs to be asked is, ”Who is demagoguing who?”

In truth, the concepts behind premium support and voucher programs are fairly close, each with a similar objective – the government helping out the beneficiary by paying a portion of a benefit, in this case an insurance premium.

Rep. Ryan likes to point out that his proposed Medicare program is the same as that employed by the Federal Employees Benefits Program and the Medicare Part D benefit that helps seniors pay for their prescription drugs. Both these programs operate using government premium support, whereby the government contributes towards the payment of the premiums charged by the private insurance carrier to the beneficiary, but makes the government’s share of the premium payment directly to the insurance company issuing the policy.

This direct payment is what is often considered the point of distinction between a voucher and premium support. In a voucher program the government gives the financial support directly to the beneficiaries who are then on their own to do what they will with the money, so long as they don’t look to the government to do anything else for them.

Using this standard alone, Rep. Ryan would have a point.

Indeed, his plan proposes seniors going to private insurers for their health care coverage with the government contributing a share of the premium charges and making the payment directly to the insurance company. This is just as the federal government does in the cases of federal employee benefits and Medicare Part D.

However, there is a more important distinction between premium support plans and vouchers.

In the plan that provides heath care benefits for federal employees, on which Ryan relies to make his premium support case, if a government employee’s premium costs go up –and they always do – the government increases the premium support in lockstep with the increased premium.

Not so with RyanCare.

Ryan’s proposal, that would turn Medicare into a private insurance program with the government providing assistance to seniors on their premium payments, limits increases in that support to the cost of living index – an amount wholly insufficient to cover the extra costs as we know that rising costs of health care and premium charges always exceed annual cost of living increases. Thus, if premiums increase (and of course they will) the costs of these increases will be shifted to our senior citizens who, in most instances, would not appear to have the ability to take on these increased costs on their fixed retirement budgets.

This, by anyone’s definition, is a voucher program.

In a recent piece by Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein, Ezra interviewed Henry Aaron of the Brookings Institute and Bob Reischauer of the Urban Institute. Messrs. Aaron and Brookings are the two gentlemen who originally came up with the term “premium support” to describe their idea for a Medicare system where the program is opened up to competition by private insurers but has safeguards built in to protect Medicare beneficiaries from the very cost shifting program the Ryan plan proposes.

While Ryan has largely adopted this model – the two originators make clear that he has done so without the key cost shifting safeguards that they believe are so essential to it working.

According to Aaron-

If one does the arithmetic, income grows a few percentage points faster than prices. Health-care spending grows faster than income by a couple of percentage points. So we’re looking at linking to an index that grows less rapidly than health-care costs by three to four percentage points a year. Piled up over 10 years, and that’s a huge erosion of coverage. It’s vouchers, not premium support.

Via Washington Post

Clearly, Ryan’s plan bears a far greater resemblance to a voucher program than the premium support programs he looks to as back up for what he is selling.

We can have a debate as to whether we would be better off turning Medicare over to the private markets. While I believe it is an idea fraught with dangerous consequences to our future seniors (those who are not yet 55 years of age), an honest debate to discuss these different ideas cannot hurt.

However, when Ryan and friends continue to play the political game of blaming the President for misleading the public when it is, in fact, Ryan who is attempting to mislead, there will be no honest debate.

It is not the President who is demagoguing on this one – it is Paul Ryan.


By: Rick Ungar, The Policy Page, Forbes, June 5, 2011

June 6, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Budget, Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, GOP, Government, Health Care, Health Care Costs, Health Reform, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Medicare, Politics, President Obama, Public Health, Rep Paul Ryan, Republicans, Right Wing, Seniors, Under Insured, Uninsured, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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