What's the best way of trashing Mitt Romney's tax plan? In these days of class warfare, it's to say his plan would result in tax cuts for high-income earners but tax increases for everyone else.
That's what the Tax Policy Center, a nongovernmental think tank under the auspices of the left-leaning Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, reported last week.
But here's the trick -- the TPC did not analyze the Romney proposal. Instead, it analyzed tax proposals not found at the Romney website. It also imposed its own set of conditions on the tax changes, such as requiring that they be "revenue-neutral."
As a result of this manipulation, the TPC claims Romney's proposal would lead to tax relief for high-income filers and tax increases for everyone else. In fact, Romney's proposal does not call for a single tax increase.
In most of America, such claims would be dismissed as second-rate political mischief. In Washington, the TPC's claims are cited by leading politicians.
President Obama cited the Center's document last week at Rollins College in Florida, a battleground state. He said, "He's asking you to pay more so that people like him can pay less. So that people like me pay less."
Donald Marron, director of the Center, told me he assumed the proposal was revenue-neutral because of comments made by Romney in the past, even though he admitted that revenue neutrality is not part of the tax proposal.
However, when the Congressional Budget Office or the Joint Tax Committee analyzes the effects of budget and tax legislation, they use written proposals, not sponsors' comments, taken in or out of context.
Had the Tax Policy Center been more meticulous, it would have noticed the simple description of the Romney tax proposal on his website. After describing the damage that high top marginal rates do to small-business hiring, the site states that Romney's plan would:
• Make a permanent, across-the-board 20 percent cut in marginal rates
• Maintain current tax rates on interest, dividends and capital gains
• Eliminate taxes for taxpayers with adjusted gross income below $200,000 on interest, dividends and capital gains
• Eliminate the death tax
• Repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax
Most fifth-graders could read this plan and see that it never once calls for raising taxes on anyone. Nor does the Romney tax plan call for giving tax cuts to high-income Americans before there are tax cuts for middle- and low-income Americans, as alleged by the TPC.
In fact, low-and middle-income earners would get tax cuts that upper-income Americans will not enjoy, such as a zero tax rate on income from dividends and long-term capital gains.
After falsely claiming the tax plan must be "revenue-neutral," the TPC asserts that lower rates must be funded by getting rid of tax breaks such as "the mortgage interest deduction, the exclusion for employer-provided health insurance, the deduction for charitable contributions, and benefits for low- and middle-income families and children like the [earned income tax credit] and child tax credit."
These draconian provisions are invented by the TPC to make Romney's tax plan look ridiculous. It is impossible to find them in the Romney plan.
Examiner readers can judge for themselves. Read the plan printed above. Does a 20 percent cut in your income taxes rate, and no taxes on dividends, interest, and capital gains for low- and middle-income earners, sound like a tax hike to you?