Last month I got a job that pays well enough that I will owe federal income taxes. This
means that for the first time in my life, Governor Mitt Romney actually cares about me.
In my first two decades, I was a student.I only worked part-time jobs that didn’t earn
me enough money to qualify for payment of federal income taxes. Though hundreds
of dollars came out of my paychecks over the years for federal payroll taxes, I was such
a lucky ducky because I didn’t have to pay any federal income taxes. This also meant
I could only vote for President Obama.
But now that I have graduated and found a well-paying job, Mitt Romney actually deems me worthy of voting for him! This is so exciting!
There’s no way I’m going to let an opportunity of voting for an experienced businessman like Mitt Romney go by. It’s not like I get a chance to vote for a multi-millionaire every day.
And now that I qualify to be one of his supporters, all I have to do is take a look at his policy agenda and past record to see if he qualifies to be my president. That shouldn’t be so hard, should it?
I thought I’d start by looking at tax policy, since Governor Romney himself seems to care so much about who pays taxes. On Mitt Romney.com, I found a whole page dedicated to his tax plans. According to this page, Romney wants to lower taxes to spur economic growth while still raising enough revenue to keep the federal budget deficit from increasing. This seemed like a good general principle, so I scrolled all the way to the bottom of the page past many paragraphs attacking President Obama’s record on taxes in order to get to the details of Romney’s plan.
But the details didn’t add up, quite literally. Romney specifies that he wants to cut federal income taxes for everyone who currently pays them by 20 per cent. He also wants to eliminate something called the Death Tax (on Wikipedia, it rerouted me to a page for the Estate Tax), and maintain current tax rates on interest, dividends and capital gains except for those whose incomes are under $200,000 (like me!), who will see taxes on those kinds of earnings eliminated altogether. That all sounds like it could help me, but nowhere on the page does the Romney campaign explain how it will accomplish its second goal, which is to lower all these taxes without increasing the federal budget deficit, since Romney says he thinks it is far too high already.
Because I couldn’t find the answer on his website, I started to look at news websites to see if Romney had cleared this up in a campaign speech or interview of some kind. It turns out, he believes the best way to lower federal income taxes by 20 per cent without increasing the deficit is to eliminate all those loopholes and deductions mucking up the tax code. That makes perfect sense, since taxes are so complicated at this point that Romney can’t even find where he put all his tax returns from before 2010.
But I wanted to know which specific loopholes and deductions he wanted to eliminate, since if I ever want to buy a house I might really need something like the mortgage tax deduction. So I watched a Fox News interview with Romney’s sharp-looking running mate, a fellow Wisconsinite by the name of Paul Ryan, who said that Romney would eliminate tax deductions starting with people at the higher end. Whew, I thought. That shouldn’t affect me, since I don’t make that much money. Then he declined to name which deductions a Romney administration would eliminate because he didn’t have time to go through all the maths. I understood why he said this because television is a medium better suited for images than arithmetic. However, I thought if all it took was a little maths to divine the Romney tax plan, I was up to the challenge.
It turns out the maths is less complicated than you would think, though probably still too much for a channel like Fox News. According to the non-partisan Tax Policy centre, cutting federal income tax rates by 20 per cent would save all households with income above $200,000 a grand total of $251 billion every year. That’s a lot of money! However, that money has to come from somewhere if it’s not going to add to the deficit.
Ryan said it would come out of deductions, so I took a look at how much all those deductions for high income individuals are actually worth. And I had to keep in mind that Romney’s website promised to keep tax rates steady on all earnings from interest, dividends, and investment. But adding up all those deductions together less any deductions for savings and investment equals less than $165 billion. That’s almost $100 billion less than the value of the 20 per cent tax cut high-income households would be getting. I realised that the reason the plan details on Romney’s website didn’t add up is because they simply couldn’t. Even if Romney did eliminate all those pesky deductions, the wealthy would still get billions in tax cuts.
This money has to come from somewhere. It either will increase the deficit, or people like me will have to pay higher taxes, or federal spending will be cut. Because Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney don’t want to go into detail about the arithmetic, I can’t really guess what will happen. I thought maybe I could get a better sense of what might happen if I vote for Romney by looking at his record in government and business. Boy, if trying to figure out his policy agenda was difficult, understanding his record was positively confounding.
One concern I had about Mitt Romney was his staunch opposition to Obamacare, since I currently benefit from the part of that law that allows young people to stay on their parents’ health insurance policy until the age of 26 (this makes sense when you work at a tech start-up that can’t yet afford extensive health insurance benefits for its employees). But then I found out that Obamacare actually modelled its regulate- mandate-subsidise approach to health care reform on a very similar plan that was passed in Massachusetts when Mitt Romney was governor. How could Mitt Romney have signed health care reform into law while praising it as a model for the nation and then later excoriate the President of the United States for actually using it as a model for the nation, insisting that if he became president, he would repeal it?
Unfortunately, whether it’s climate change, reproductive rights, auto bailouts, or even his own proposed tax and regulation policies, the story is the same: Romney has switched sides on many of the most important issues of our time, then declined to give a coherent explanation as to why. In fact, in some cases he actually denies that he ever changed his position despite crystal clear video evidence to the contrary. Between this unsettling tendency to switch positions without providing a reason, and a consistent reliance on vague assertions with contradictory details when it comes to discussing a policy agenda on his website and in his speeches, I have come to the following conclusion:
I have no idea what Mitt Romney would do if he became President of the United States.
He has taken a lot of stances that I disagree with, both those that would make life more difficult for me personally like repealing Obamacare, and others like eliminating reproductive rights which would hurt immeasurably the women I count as friends and family. But prior to taking these stances, he held the opposite ones. Who is to say which set of beliefs are really his?
I made some sense of this when I thought back to what Mitt Romney had said about 47 per cent of Americans: They pay no federal income taxes, and therefore they are reliant on the government. According to his logic, I had become less dependent on the government when I started earning enough to pay federal income taxes, and therefore more important for him to reach since I was taking responsibility for my life.
But when I looked at Mitt Romney’s own tax returns, I found out that he earns tens of millions of dollars annually but pays federal income taxes on a vanishingly small portion of that money. Because of the government’s special tax treatment for investment income — that is money that you earn from what you own rather than what you actually do — Mitt Romney pays income taxes on almost none of his income. By contrast, I pay federal income tax on all of my income. Therefore, using his own logic, I am less dependent on the government, and more personally responsible than Mitt Romney himself because the government hands him preferential tax treatment that I don’t receive.
Romney’s total lack of clarity about his own preferred policies reflects a discrepancy between what he says and who he is. I simply cannot vote for such a man, since at a bare minimum I think the President of the United States should demonstrate some semblance of knowing his own mind.
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