The arithmetic: Romney's tax policies don't add up

In last night's debate, Mitt Romney responded to Barack Obama's criticism of his tax plan in a way that sounded pretty appealing:

I don't have a $5 trillion tax cut. I don't have a tax cut of the scale you're talking about. I think we ought to provide tax relief to people in the middle class. But I won't reduce the share of tax paid by high-income people.... I'm not looking to cut massive taxes and to reduce revenues going to the government. My number one principal is, there will be no tax cut that adds to the deficit. I want to underline that no tax cut that will add to the deficit.

That all sounds pretty good. There's just one problem: The arithmetic. There is absolutely no possible way for Romney to keep all of these promises at once:

You cannot lower tax rates as much as Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan propose to do and keep all the existing tax expenditures for middle class Americans and still end up with the same total amount of tax revenue.

As the Tax Policy Center demonstrated, cutting individual income tax rates by 20 percent from today's levels would reduce tax burdens by $251 billion per year (in 2015) among households with income above $200,000.

If you leave preferential tax rates for savings and investing (e.g., long-term capital gains and dividends) untouched, as Mr. Romney has said he would do, that leaves only $165 billion of available tax expenditures that can be eliminated from this same group of high-income earners once their marginal tax rates fall.

That means there’s an $86 billion shortfall — the difference between $251 billion in tax cuts and $165 billion in potential tax increases on this high-income group — that needs to be accounted for somewhere.

By process of elimination that somewhere must be the rest of the population, the 95 percent of households earning less than about $200,000 annually.

The analysis above isn't a post-debate fact-check. Actually, experts have been saying that about Romney's tax plan for months. Which means that Romney knows the facts and is simply lying to you.

It's easy to make your plans sound attractive when you make things up. But voters who like the sound of Mitt Romney's tax plan should be aware that he will never -- can never -- keep his word. He's promising them a mathematical impossibility, and what's worse, he knows it.

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