‘It’s not a huge tax cut’

Mitt Romney appeared on “Fox News Sunday” yesterday, the former governor’s first Sunday show appearance in nearly two years, and Chris Wallace brought up an interesting subject: Romney’s tax plan. From the transcript:

WALLACE: You talk about helping the middle class but your plan that would eliminate the tax on capital gains and dividends doesn’t help them. A recent study showed that a family making $75,000 a year in terms of what they would receive by eliminating capital gains and dividends, $167, sir.

ROMNEY: Well, first of all, $167 is not zero. And number two, one of the reasons people don’t save their money is that they don’t see an incentive to do so…. What I do is allow middle-income families to finally be able to save their money tax free. No tax on interest dividends or capital gains for middle income Americans.

WALLACE: But the argument is middle class people can’t afford, they don’t have enough money to have a lot of capital gains and dividends.

ROMNEY: Look, I recognize it’s not a huge tax cut. It is a tax reduction and it allows middle-income folks to participate in making a brighter future for themselves and for saving.

This was a rather important exchange for a couple of reasons. The first is the basic policy realization, which the former governor is now conceding, that Romney’s plan largely ignores the middle class. For that matter, Romney has been arguing for weeks that $1,000 in middle-class families’ paychecks is a meaningless, but yesterday suggested $167 makes a big difference.

Or put another way, why does Romney think $1,000 a year is a “band-aid,” but $167 helps families make “a brighter future”?

The other problem here is simple dishonesty. Romney has spent the last several months telling voters his plan is focused on “tax cuts for the middle class,” and he doesn’t intend to “waste time trying to get tax cuts for wealthy people.” The reality, of course, is the exact opposite — Romney supports major tax breaks for the very wealthy, and as he conceded yesterday on Fox News, isn’t much focused on tax cuts for the middle class at all.

If Romney wants to make the case that middle-class tax breaks are a bad idea given the deficit, that’s fine; he can make the case. If he wants to argue that tax breaks for the wealthy are worthwhile, he can make that argument, too. But the problem is the casual, effortless dishonesty that tells the public the opposite of the truth.