At last week's vice presidential debate, after Paul Ryan mentioned his ticket's tax-cut plan, moderator Martha Raddatz asked the congressman a pointed question: "Well, let's talk about this 20 percent. You have refused, again, to offer specifics on how you pay for that 20 percent across-the-board tax cut. Do you actually have the specifics? Or are you still working on it, and that's why you won't tell voters?"
Ryan, true to form, hedged. Raddatz added, "No specifics, again," which the Republican responded to with no details at all.
The issue came up yesterday on "Fox News Sunday," with Chris Wallace posing a similar question to Romney campaign advisor Ed Gillespie.
Towards the end of the clip, you'll see the host and the surrogate get into a mini-debate over the ideology of the American Enterprise Institute -- which matters, but is tangential to the two main points here.
The first is the candy vs. spinach question.
"Ryan is saying, we don't want to get hemmed in. Let's leave it to negotiations with congress to get into the details. Here's my question. Why is it all right to tell voters about the candy -- hey, everybody is going to get a 20% tax cut, cut in their tax rates, but let's not tell them about the spinach, which is you're going to lose some deductions?"
Gillespie noted that the campaign has talked in broad generalities about eliminating unspecified deductions, but therein lies the point. When it comes to tax cuts, Romney/Ryan will give you all kinds of specific details -- they know exactly how much they want to cut income taxes, corporate tax rates, capital gains taxes, and the estate tax. For a campaign that prefers to be vague, promising to work out the particulars later, Romney/Ryan has no trouble at all spelling out all the lovely tax cuts they intend to implement -- i.e., the candy.
It's the other side of the ledger -- that darned spinach -- they don't want to talk about. The problem is the Republican campaign tries to present this as somehow virtuous -- they'll outline ambiguous principles and then work out the details with Congress. But that makes Wallace's question all the more significant: why are details good when Romney's handing out goodies, while details are bad when talking about how to pay for them?
Which leads us to the second issue.
GILLESPIE: Six different studies have said this is entirely doable.
WALLACE: Those are questionable, some of them are blogs, some of them are from the AEI, which is hardly an independent group.
Putting aside, for a moment, who's right about AEI, the "six studies" issue has become incredibly important. Romney/Ryan is desperately trying to tell voters that they can slash taxes, increase defense and entitlement spending, and reduce the deficit, all at the same time. People with calculators keep saying, "Um, isn't that nuts?" to which Republicans reply, "No, we have six studies that say it's possible."
But it's really not. Josh Barro had a terrific item on this late last week.
The Romney campaign sent over a list of the studies, but they are perhaps more accurately described as "analyses," since four of them are blog posts or op-eds. I'm not hating -- I blog for a living -- but I don't generally describe my posts as "studies."
None of the analyses do what Romney's campaign says: show that his tax plan is sound. I'm going to walk through them individually...
Barro scrutinizes all six "studies," and the piece is worth your time. Bottom line: common sense tells us the Romney/Ryan plan doesn't add up, and the campaign's support materials don't help the Republicans' case.