Romney Let’s Mask Slip

Garrett Haake reports


PALM BEACH, FL — Mitt Romney went well beyond his standard stump speech at a closed-door fundraiser on Sunday evening, and offered some of the most specific details to date about the policies he would pursue if elected.
In a speech to donors in the backyard of a private home here,


Romney went into a level of detail not usually seen by the public in the speech, which was overheard by reporters on a sidewalk below.

Oh my. But what is striking is not that he says one thing to donors and another thing in public where swing voters can hear. It is that there is almost no there there. Mitt Romney’s secret plan to balance the budget and to avoid giving tax breaks to the rich would do neither.

Knock me over with a wrecking ball. Briefly the secret plan is to eliminate HUD, cut the Department of Education, eliminate for high income families the second home mortgage deduction and “probably” deductions for state and local property taxes.

Discussion and more quotes and gloats after the jump.

On spending, Romney made it fairly clear that he mostly plans to change organisational charts

“I’m going to take a lot of departments in Washington, and agencies, and combine them. Some eliminate, but I’m probably not going to lay out just exactly which ones are going to go,” Romney said. “Things like Housing and Urban Development, which my dad was head of, that might not be around later. But I’m not going to actually go through these one by one. What I can tell you is, we’ve got far too many bureaucrats.

Of course he didn’t say how many bureaucrats there are in Washington (and not in Northern Virginia at the Pentagon and CIA) because there are fewer than he assumes people assume. He didn’t explain how merging departments cuts costs (hey look how well the Department of Homeland Security worked out). Targetting HUD shows he wants it to be clear that he is cutting programs for poor (and black) people.

I think he is vulnerable to questions about whether he wants to eliminate HUD programs (if so the CBPP or someone can calculate how many families will end up homeless) or just save a seat at the cabinet table. Also one can note how small the HUD budget is compared to the spending cuts he has promised. Any hook to make discussion of spending cuts specific is harmful to Romney as he depends entirely on the unpopularity of government spending in the abstract versus the popularity of government programs.

But the real oppo research (and comedy) gold is in the totally feeble tax proposals.

“I’m going to probably eliminate for high income people the second home mortgage deduction,” Romney said, adding that he would also likely eliminate deductions for state income and property taxes as well.

“By virtue of doing that, we’ll get the same tax revenue, but we’ll have lower rates,”

The fact (already calcuated I forget where) is that those with the highest incomes would gain from his rate cuts even if they were deprived of all tax deductions. But second mortgages ??? What a joke. For one thing super rich people don’t have mortgages if they are not fools as mortgage interest rates are higher than safe rates available to them. For another, the amount of money involved is tiny compared the the huge decline in revenues due to the rate cuts.

I ask people more industrious than myself (say at the Tax Policy Center)to toss in the possible elimination of the property tax deduction, define high income as income over $250,000 and run the numbers. The list of two (2) deductions to be partially eliminated reaches into one “likely” reform and so Romney can’t claim that there are other certain reforms which he didn’t mention. The claim that those two tiny reductions in deductions make up for the rate cuts is clearly a pants on fire lie.

Romney’s strategy of vagueness depends on not letting his statements about the details of his plans be overheard. Now he can be asked again and again about how he made false claims about the effect on the deficit of proposals which can be scored. This could be important if the Obama campaign doesn’t blow it (note I assume that the press won’t press Romney — also I don’t believe in the tooth fairy).