The Republican Presidential Primary: And In This Ring...

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McCain's Tax Plan: I Was Wrong About Everything

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) released his tax plan on Wednesday, which consists of repealing the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) without paying for it, extending the Bush tax cuts without paying for them, and requiring a 3/5 majority of both chambers of Congress to enact any tax increase.

Remarkably, this is the same senator who voted against the biggest of the Bush tax cut packages in 2001 and 2003. During a debate on September 5 he explained that he voted against those bills because they did not include cuts in spending, which he thought were also necessary. But at the same time, he also makes the claim that the tax cuts have boosted revenues, which would seem to imply that no cuts in spending are ever needed to pay for tax breaks.

This seems to be the position he has settled on, since he has no plans to pay for any of his tax cuts and has a somewhat vague proposal to require a "3/5 majority vote in Congress to raise taxes." Since even revenue-neutral bills are considered tax increases by the GOP now (because they offset the costs of, say a lower corporate rate by closing tax loopholes that benefit somebody) this apparently means a supermajority would be needed to enact any basic tax reform. John McCain is now committed to the idea that tax cuts will pay for themselves and even raise revenues.

(Those who are tuning in late to this ongoing debate may be utterly confused as to why anyone thinks tax cuts could cause revenues to increase. Anti-tax activists have convinced some conservative politicians that cutting taxes actually increases revenues because tax cuts encourage work and investment so much that incomes and profits increase enormously, in turn increasing tax collections by more than enough to make up for the costs of the cuts. Mainstream economists do not believe this and Bush's own Treasury Department and OMB director have admitted that they don't believe it either.)

Also, McCain would like to stop taxing "innovation" by making permanent the ban on internet access taxes and by banning taxes on cell phone use. As we've argued before, it's a shame that Thomas Edison didn't think to lobby for a moratorium on taxing electric devices, or that Henry Ford didn't lobby for a moratorium on taxes on automobiles, since those products were innovations for their time. McCain would also make permanent the research credit, which is a tax subsidy for certain companies supported by politicians who can't decide whether the free market works or doesn't work.

Huckabee's 50% Sales Tax

Now that former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee has been climbing in the polls, reporters are suddenly inconvenienced by the need to read up on and explain the tax proposal Huckabee has been touting for months. His proposal is often described as a 23 percent national sales tax, but supporters prefer to call it the "Fair Tax," because they've apparently figured that the idea of a new sales tax is not inherently appealing to people. Actually the tax would be 30 cents on an item that costs a dollar, which most of us would call a 30 percent tax, but supporters argue that 30 cents is only 23 percent of $1.30. But that's not even half of the problem. Citizens for Tax Justice studied this proposal back in 2004 and found that to actually replace all the revenue collected by our current tax system, the national sales tax would actually have to be set at a rate of 50 percent.

So to recap:
  • The proposed national sales tax rate claimed by Fair Tax supporters: 23%

  • The proposed rate as any normal person would define it: 30%

  • The rate necessary for the Treasury to break even under realistic assumptions: 50%

  • The chances of anything like this being enacted: 0%

Giuliani's' Mind: A Place More Peaceful than Reality

Most Republican candidates reveal some sort of ambivalence or inner-conflicts over tax and fiscal matters. On one hand, they're all fairly intelligent people who must understand that revenues cannot be increased by tax cuts. On the other hand, they must find some way to appeal to the masses who want to hear the good news of free tax cuts without any troubling analysis that might disprove this appealing message. Hence you see McCain's convoluted explanations of his votes, Huckabee's attempts to avoid discussing the less right-wing aspects of his governorship, and Romney's policy acrobatics.

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani's mind appears to be serene and untroubled by such turmoil. He has been able to maintain throughout his campaign so far that the way to raise revenue for any initiative is to cut taxes, apparently freeing himself from any complicated thinking. He continued hammering this appealing message home at the debate on December 12. He argued that the solution to our national debt is that "the federal government has to restrain its spending" and that we need a policy "leaving more money in the pockets of the American people" without showing the slightest awareness of how little sense this makes.

Romney's Offshore Tax Evasion

Meanwhile, it has come to light that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney "was listed as a general partner and personally invested in BCIP Associates III Cayman, a private equity fund that is registered at a post office box on Grand Cayman Island and that indirectly buys equity in US companies." In other words, Romney was using a shell company -- a company located, on paper only, in a tax haven country -- to avoid paying taxes on money he was investing for his clients and himself. He had a similar arrangement in Bermuda. His campaign staff maintains that this was all perfectly legal. As far as we're concerned, that is the real scandal.

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