So what did you learn about what your taxes might look like next year from the first presidential debate? Not much? Me neither.
Here we go, I thought. Since the contest for the Oval Office is still so close, these two are going to make the choice clear to undecided voters by offering some substantive insights into their differing tax policies. We're going to get a real back-and-forth, easy-to-compare exchange of opposing ideas.
Yeah, quit laughing. I knew it was a long shot.
That we were in for a long night of shallowly touching on taxes was confirmed when Romney responded, "That's not what I'm going to do" to the charge that he favors a system of top-down tax cuts for the rich.
What we got was the same-old, same-old. The criticism that the Republican favors a tax system that inordinately benefits the wealthy. The charge that the Democrat wants to stunt the fragile economy by raising taxes.
Specifics, guys, specifics.
"Gov. Romney's central economic plan calls for a $5 trillion tax cut -- on top of the extension of the Bush tax cuts -- that's another trillion dollars -- and $2 trillion in additional military spending that the military hasn't asked for. That's $8 trillion. How we pay for that, reduce the deficit, and make the investments that we need to make, without dumping those costs onto middle-class Americans, I think is one of the central questions of this campaign," said Obama.
OK. Numbers. We're getting there.
"First of all, I don't have a $5 trillion tax cut. I don't have a tax cut of a scale that you're talking about," replied Romney. "My view is that we ought to provide tax relief to people in the middle class. But I'm not going to reduce the share of taxes paid by high-income people. High-income people are doing just fine in this economy. They'll do fine whether you're president or I am."
Uh, guys, $5 trillion is a huge number. And you both mentioned it. But what does it mean to average taxpaying me? Anyone? Bueller?
Yes, Mr. President. Go ahead.
"Let's talk about taxes, because I think it's instructive," said Obama. "Now, four years ago, when I stood on this stage, I said that I would cut taxes for middle-class families. And that's exactly what I did. We cut taxes for middle-class families by about $3,600. … Now, Gov. Romney's proposal that he has been promoting for 18 months calls for a $5 trillion tax cut, on top of $2 trillion of additional spending for our military. And he is saying that he is going to pay for it by closing loopholes and deductions. The problem is that he's been asked over 100 times how you would close those deductions and loopholes, and he hasn't been able to identify them."
Romney acknowledged that he and his Democratic opponent both want to bring the tax rates down and that to do so, whoever is elected will have to find a way to replace the money the U.S. Treasury will lose to those reduced taxes.
But, as Obama noted, Romney again repeated his general approach of reducing deductions and credits and exemptions. There are a lot of those to choose from. It would be helpful to know which ones -- and by which ones, I mean which tax breaks you and I claim -- are on the possible chopping block.
So again, I ask, what did you learn about either candidate's tax plan that you didn't know before? Nothing.
Or as moderator Jim Lehrer noted, "That's where we started. Yeah."
And that's where we'll likely stay. There's a chance that in the next encounter Oct. 16, a town hall format, we might get some tax questions from the public.
Let's hope so because time is running out for both of these candidates.
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