Romney’s Big Tax Reveal

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I'm delighted to cut taxes more.
I'm delighted to cut taxes more. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/2012 Getty Images

One of the stickier dilemmas awaiting Mitt Romney’s campaign is the intersection between his personal wealth and his economic program. Romney is a very rich guy who enjoys a low tax rate, which is a political problem. Combine that with his tax plan, which locks in the Bush tax cuts and then cuts taxes even more, you have a ready-made political theme for the Obama campaign to deploy against him should he win the nomination.

At the same time, Romney has not wrapped up the nomination. And conservative elites are saying that his plan doesn’t go far enough in cutting taxes for himself and his economic peers. So Romney is pulled between two competing forces — Republican supply-siders who want him to cut taxes for the rich even more, and general election swing voters who not only don’t want to cut taxes for the rich at all but think they need to go higher.

It’s pretty significant, then that Romney is planning to roll out an updated and (apparently) more detailed version of his tax proposal, via Jennifer Rubin:

Will he do more on taxes? “Yes,” [Romney] responds promptly. “We’ve talked about two immediate things we can do: Bring the corporate tax down from 35 percent to 25 percent, and eliminate cap-gains for people in the middle [class].” He said he would roll out the full tax reform plan “as soon as it gets through modeling.” Romney is not the candidate to charge forward without data. It doesn’t sound like a flat tax. He talks about “lowering rates and lowering deductions and exemptions.” (That sounds more akin to the plan suggested by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).) He promises, with a not-so-subtle shot at his critics, “You can be sure I won’t be doing it to lower taxes on the top one percent. It will be pro-growth.”

But what does that mean exactly? Saying he won’t be “doing it to lower taxes on the top one percent” could mean two completely different things. It could mean he won’t be lowering taxes on the top one percent — perhaps he’ll keep the current effective tax rates on the top one percent steady. Or it could mean that he will be cutting taxes for the one percent, but he’ll just insist that he’s doing it because he cares about growth — the fact that people like himself will be getting a tax cut is merely the accidental byproduct of his pro-growth plan.

Which will it be? His choice will help signal how worried Romney really is about Rick Santorum’s polling surge. If Romney cuts taxes for the rich even more in his new plan than his old one, it shows he feels compelled to lock down the supply-siders against Santorum. If he cuts taxes for the rich less, then it shows he’s not taking Santorum all that seriously. And, of course, his decision will hold pretty important implications for the general election – either Romney will be narrowing the target profile he offers Obama or else he'll be making it even wider.