Romney’s Master Chicanery

Josh BarroI really don’t like Josh Barro. It’s not just his politics. There is something visceral to my disdain. It could be that in some fundamental way, he’s too much like me. I don’t like to think these things. But whenever I dislike someone more than is strictly reasonable, I have to consider everything. I’ve written about Up With Chris Hayes two times recently, and both times I went out of my way to complain about Josh Barro: in August and September.

Regardless of my feelings toward Barro, I fully admit that he’s a smart guy. And he’s very knowledgeable about one thing I find even more confusing than economics: finance. And earlier today, he pointed out something that shocked me in its cynicism. (I mean that as a compliment.)

As you have probably heard, Romney paid more federal income taxes in 2011 than he had to. He did this so that his promise that he’d never paid less than 13% would be true. But that’s not the end of the story as Barro points out:

Romney won’t have to pay those extra taxes after all. You have three years after filing to amend your tax returns and claim deductions that you missed the first time you filed. So, if Romney loses the election, he can amend his return to claim the deductions he skipped and get a refund check from the government.

There are a couple of notable things about this. First: wow! I knew you could amend your taxes because Romney has done it very publicly a few times. But I didn’t see this one coming. This is like watching a great slight of hand artist work.[1] I love it!

The other thing isn’t about Romney; it’s about Josh Barro. Maybe I was too hasty with that compliment. Maybe he’s just clever and not cynical. At least he’s not as cynical as I am. The first thing I thought after reading that was, “Why would he amend the return only if he loses?”

The truth is that I’m sure that Romney’s accountants are every bit as clever as Barro and as cynical as I am. It’s already in the works. On Wednesday, November 7, Romney’s people will file that amendment. Interest on a quarter million dollars adds up quick. There’s no time to waste!

[1] Another master of chicanery, Ricky Jay:

Dreaming of a White President

I think that Randy Newman has been lacking artistically the last many years, but he’s released a new song that I really like. It has an obvious connection to Sail Away. This one is called I’m Dreaming. The whole line is, “I’m dreaming of a white President.” And an AIF version of the file is available for free. It’s worth downloading.

You’ve Been Outsourced!

Homer SimpsonThe ad for the new season of The Simpsons is really great. A couple of things stand out.

First, there is Homer’s summation of democracy in America, “Oh man, not another election! Why do we have to choose our leaders? Isn’t that what we have the Supreme Court for?”

One of the best things about The Simpsons has always been the signs in the background. My favorite was a sign at the baseball field that read, “Springfield Savings & Loan: 1903-1991;1992-.” Pretty great. Here we have two political signs:

“Obama: Keep Hoping.”

That is literally the Obama campaign’s message, although (as Mitt Romney would say) inelegantly stated. Here is the other:

“Romney: I Have a House in Your State!”

Republicans Abuse Poor Coming & Going

Percent Paying No Income Tax Time SeriesI’m tired of the all the discussion about Mitt Romney’s 47% remarks. But I want to say one (hopefully) last thing about it. Earlier this week, Ezra Klein published the graph on the left (click on it to see it at regular size). I know that I’ve been talking about Klein a lot recently, but as I said, he’s been really insightful.

What this graph shows is that the percentage of people who paid no federal income taxes was roughly 20% through the mid-1980s. There are three big reasons why it has gone up: Reagan, Bush Jr, and the Lesser Depression. There isn’t much to say about the Lesser Depression; when economic times are bad, there are more poor people who will not pay any federal income taxes. We see this in the 1970s, when the recession brought the number up and then in the 1980s, the recovery brought the number back down.[1]

What Reagan and Bush Jr did is very interesting. They both wanted to pass tax cuts that were highly regressive: giving the rich far more benefit than the poor. This is an article of faith on the right. About the only thing we absolutely know about a Romney administration is that it would lower taxes on the rich. But there’s a problem with this idea. You can’t get the 90% of the country who would get nothing from a tax cut to support such a proposal. So Reagan and Bush Jr offered minor tax cuts for the poor and middle class. One of the results of these cuts was to increase the percentage of people who paid no federal income tax.

This is just history and one can agree or disagree that these tax cuts were a good idea. But there is an outrage that has been going on for a while—Fox News has been pushing this idea that it is somehow wrong that almost half of the people don’t pay any federal income tax. (They often make matters worse by claiming that these people pay “no taxes” full stop.) Other conservative media outlets have done the same thing. And many Republican politicians have followed suit.

Here’s the outrage: the same people complaining about the poor not paying federal income taxes are the same people who created this situation to push through tax cuts for the rich! The Republicans are abusing the poor on both sides of this issue. First, they give the poor tiny tax cuts to justify enormous tax cuts for the rich. Once that’s done, they claim that the poor don’t pay enough in taxes.

There is more to this, of course. The Republicans who claim to always be for tax cuts are half-in for raising taxes on the poor. I say “half-in” because there are a lot of conservatives who see the trap here. (I don’t think they actually care about taxing the poor.) This is not real hypocrisy, however. The Republicans are clearly only interested in tax cuts for the wealthy. We saw this in the payroll tax fight earlier this year. But their rhetoric is always that taxes are bad for everyone. So they certainly seem to be hypocrites on this subject.

If we let them, the Republicans will raise taxes on the poor to a higher rate than it was in the early 80s when this madness started. But apparently, now is not the time. Romney is back tracking as fast as he can. But don’t think the issue will be dead for long. The poor are too convenient a punching bag for Republicans. You know how bullies love to pick on the weak.

[1] President Carter gets a bunch of blame for the late 70s recession while President Reagan gets a bunch of credit for “Morning in America.” This is wrong. Both the recession and the recovery were due to Fed Chairman Paul Volcker. In order to reduce inflation, he raised interest rates in the 1970s. This pretty much guaranteed that Carter would be a one term president. Once inflation was under control, he lowered interest rates and the economy took off. This pretty much guaranteed that Reagan would be a two term president. See the Wikipedia Stagflation article for more information.

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