A number of folks are having fun with Paul Ryan’s Sunday interview on Fox News, in which he declined to explain how the Romney/Ryan tax cuts will be paid for: “I don’t have the time, it would take me too long to go through all the math.” Jon Chait sees this as the latest sign that Ryan will “emerge from the race with his legend punctured.”
But there’s another line from Ryan that is arguably just as revealing: Ryan explicitly admits that he and Romney would cut taxes even if they can’t make the math show that the tax cuts would be paid for.
After Ryan’s remark about not having the time to do the math, Chris Wallace pressed Ryan this way:
WALLACE: If, just suppose, that the doubters are right, President Romney takes office and the math doesn’t add up.
RYAN: First of all, we’ve run the numbers, I’ve run them in Congress, they do. We’ve got about five other studies that show that you can do this.
WALLACE: OK, but let’s assume it doesn’t. The question is, what’s more important to Romney? Would he scale back on the 20 percent tax cut for the wealthy? Would he scale back and say, OK, you know, we’re going to have to raise taxes for the middle class?
I guess the question is what’s most important to him in his tax reform plan?
RYAN: Keeping tax rates down. By lowering tax rates, people keep more of the next dollar that they earn. That matters. That is incentives. That’s pro-growth policy. That creates 7 million jobs. And what should go first...
WALLACE: So that’s more important than...
RYAN: That’s more important than anything. And more importantly, it’s not what deductions are in the tax code but it’s who gets them.
That is as clear a statement of priorities as you could want. Ryan admits that even if the math in their plan can’t work, that even if the tax cuts cannot be paid for by ending loopholes and deductions on the wealthy, he and Ryan would not scale back their planned tax cuts on the rich one penny. And don’t worry, this won’t explode the deficit, because just trust us, the revenues generated by the growth unleashed by the tax cuts will ultimately pay for the plan.
The consensus among many mainstream economists is that this is a “fantasy,” and as Jonathan Bernstein has noted, the same promise by previous GOP presidents has proven it to be magical thinking. Romney himself has admitted under questioning that such thinking is his fallback, too. But yesterday Ryan went considerably further, by explicitly confirming tax cuts are to be prioritized over revenue-neutrality.
The Romney tax plan promises everyone an across the board tax cut, which would be paid for by ending loopholes and deductions, beginning with those enjoyed by the rich. Romney promises that the plan would be revenue neutral. The Tax Policy Center found, however, that it’s mathematically impossible to keep all these promises — the only way to pay for all those tax cuts is to target loopholes enjoyed by the middle class, ultimately hiking their tax burden. Romney sometimes deals with this by insisting the study is wrong and vaguely promising that he will, in fact, make the math work somehow, through negotiations with Congress — after he is elected president, of course.
But here Ryan allowed that even if the math explicitly indicates that the tax cuts cannot be paid for without raising middle class taxes — the conditional Wallace laid down — the Romney administration would proceed with the tax cuts, anyway. Cutting taxes is a more important short term policy goal in Romney’s plan than having it pay for itself. Indeed, Ryan’s claims, by any reasonable measure, represent a confirmed disavowal of the notion that the plan will be “revenue neutral,” if by “revenue neutral” we mean that the plan can be demonstrated to pay for itself up front.
Good to know. Hopefully the priorities on display here will be exposed during the debates.