Can’t “Negotiate” What Doesn’t Exist

There’s a fair amount of buzz today about a Bloomberg column by Josh Barro that conducts a definitive smackdown on the Romney’s tax proposal and the idea that Mitt can somehow get his precious cut without increasing the deficit or increasing middle-class taxes.

Barro gets pretty far down in the weeds in rebutting the various “studies” (mostly op-eds and blog posts) the Romney campaign touts as defending its point-of-view. But here’s the part that may be most important in terms of public understanding of the mendacity of the Romney/Ryan “bipartisanship” pitch: the claim that negotiations with Congress will supply the missing details, and/or is the reason the candidates are refusing to supply them right now:

There are only meaningful “alternatives” to discuss with Congress if Romney can pick and choose from a pool of tax preferences for the wealthy that far exceeds the $250 billion annual cost of his rate cuts for them. If the pool of available base broadeners is just large enough to finance his tax cuts, then Romney actually is dictating a plan to Congress: if they don’t eliminate exactly the set of preferences he proposes, his plan will either have to raise taxes on the middle class or grow the deficit.

In other words, you can’t “negotiate” something that does not in the real world actually exist. So if like me you don’t much believe in R&R’s interest in bipartisanship to begin with, this is a double dose of dishonesty at the very center of the GOP ticket’s closing pitch to voters.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.