One of These Tax Plans Is Not Like the Other

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Jared Bernstein compliments the Washington Post today for its tough line on Mitt Romney’s evolving portfolio of magical tax plans. Unfortunately, he says, they can’t leave well enough alone:

But the WaPo then goes unfairly to the “pox-on-both-houses” place when it claims that President Obama has not suggested explicit tax expenditures/loophole closures to pay for his corporate tax rate reduction, from 35% to 28%. In this document that introduced the administration’s corporate tax reform ideas, they explicitly call for eliminating an inventory accounting tax gimmick that costs the Treasury $74 billion over ten, oil and gas subsidies ($27 billion), the carried interest loophole, and a bunch of other cats and dogs that amount to over $140 billion.

Beyond that, however, they raise significant revenue (another $148 billion), and just as importantly, close down some distortionary incentives to offshore production, by closing international taxation loopholes. Moreover, their document suggests that some big ticket credits and deductions, including accelerated depreciation and tax preferences for debt over equity financing should be on the table.

How is that anywhere near analogous to the absence of specificity from the Romney campaign on their tax plan? So while I give the WaPo kudos for scrutinizing Romney’s tax math, the double pox formulation doesn’t work here. At the very least, they need to read the administration’s white paper and explain why I’m wrong.

Also worth noting: the Obama document is actually a serious proposal. It’s not just four or five bullet points, as most of Romney’s plans are. It goes into some serious detail about the pros and cons of various corporate tax reforms and explains what they mean and how much they cost. It’s like night and day compared to the pabulum on the Romney campaign website.

More generally, Bernstein is right: this kind of editorializing is lazy, and it infects plenty of other subjects. If the Post doesn’t like Obama’s corporate tax proposal, that’s fine. If they think his numbers don’t add up, also fine. But why pretend that he’s done nothing but go after trivial small-dollar pay-fors and hasn’t produced a serious plan? It’s just not true.

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