One of the more contentious moments of the debate came fairly early on. President Obama noted, "Gov. Romney's central economic plan calls for a $5 trillion tax cut." The Republican disagreed, insisting more than once that his plan carries a far smaller, though undefined, price tag.
I imagine many viewers at home weren't sure who to believe. Even some fact-checkers were left confused -- CNN's John Berman said Obama's charge is "false" if "you take [Romney] at his word."
Of course, by that standard, no one, anywhere, has ever lied about anything -- if we take someone at their word, and apply no additional scrutiny, dishonesty is literally impossible.
But those interested in understanding the facts, the policy details are indisputable. As Jonathan Cohn explained overnight:
President Obama repeatedly described Romney's tax plan as a $5 trillion tax plan. Romney repeatedly took exception. The figure is correct. Romney has not given many details about his tax plan, but it's possible to extrapolate from his promises and the Tax Policy Center, a project of the Brookings Institution and Urban Institute, did just that. Crunching the numbers, they determined that his proposed rate cut would cost ... $5 trillion.
Last night, Romney simply asserted the figure is wrong, but up until yesterday, the Republican campaign has offered a different defense: the cost will be offset by closing tax loopholes and ending deductions.
This remains problematic, not just because Romney refuses to identify which loopholes and deductions, but because there aren't nearly enough loopholes and deductions to make up the difference.
What's more, in the debate, Romney cited "six other studies" that, according to him support the notion that he can slash tax rates without increasing the deficit or increasing the burden on the middle class. But that's wrong, too: "Those studies actually do not provide much evidence that Romney's proposal -- as sketchy as it is -- would be revenue neutral without making unrealistic assumptions."
Those inclined to "take [Romney] at his word" are living in a fantasy world where calculators don't exist.