If you’re sick of hearing the Democrats’ mantra of taxing the wealthy, then cover your ears on Thursday and for the rest of the fall.
Just as Mitt Romney’s campaign avoided unveiling specifics of its tax policy in Tampa, the Democrats are hewing to an equally predictable script full of buzzwords such as “middle-class tax cuts.”
“It’s going to be the ‘fair share’ rhetoric we’ve heard on the campaign trail, as well as pointing out the fact that the Romney and Ryan numbers don’t add up,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and a former chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden.
The tax talk here takes a two-pronged approach. First, Democrats will keep attacking Romney for both the vagueness of his tax plan and for the way the tax code in a Romney-Ryan world would favor the wealthy like—you guessed it—Romney.
“The Republicans use the language of small business to hide the fact that they are giving breaks to wealthy people like Romney,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., told Convention Daily on Wednesday morning. “Mitt Romney thinks Bain Capital is a small business.”
The second point that the Democrats will hammer on is their desire to extend middle-class tax cuts and raise taxes on the rich to pay down the deficit.
That’s a more concrete plan, Obama campaign officials have argued, than proposals from Romney and his running mate, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, to pay for lower tax rates by eliminating unspecified breaks and loopholes. Romney senior economic advisers have said they will not introduce further details on which breaks or loopholes they’d target until after the election. Anything too specific, they said, would be political suicide.
In many ways, Obama campaign aides and White House officials say they feel quite confident about the tax plans they’ve put forward. The president’s budget outlines a host of tax policies, including the expiration of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts.
The president has also stuck with his message of taxing household income greater than $250,000 while temporarily extending the Bush tax cuts for income below that threshold—a proposal that the majority of Senate and House Democrats now support.
And although his corporate tax reform plan released in February was criticized at the time as being too vague, former administration advisers consider it a starting point.
“It’s not that easy to broaden the base and lower the rates, but we laid out an entire detailed white paper,” said Austan Goolsbee, the former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. “The president is in no way against [tax reform]. He’s laid out a framework of how you can do it.”
The problem is that the bulk of the money in the tax code lies within the tax breaks and tax rates for the middle class.
At some point, if President Obama is reelected and as the deficit continues to grow, given the rising entitlement costs, taxes will have to go up for a larger share of people—and not just the top 2 percent of taxpayers. That’s a long-term caveat to the tax and spending debates, but one that certainly won’t come up in Charlotte or on the campaign trail.
This article appears in the September 6, 2012, edition of NJ Convention Daily.