Go on Offense on Taxes

The Obama campaign has been running a lot of ads claiming that Romney will raise middle-class taxes. The claim is a fabrication based on a study that argued that the tax plan Romney has sketched contains elements that aren’t consistent with one another: that is, it’s mathematically impossible to cut tax rates across the board, produce a tax code that raises as much revenue as the current one, and keep middle-class taxes from rising. The Obama campaign has taken the further step of claiming that Romney will raise middle-class taxes in order to cut tax rates and keep revenue stable. In some recent ads, the campaign just says that Romney “could” take away middle-class deductions. Pointing out the deception has gotten some fact-checkers to tsk-tsk Obama, but he has not seen any need to stop making this charge a central element of his TV campaign.

A different response may be in order. President Obama claims he wants to keep middle-class taxes from rising, but he did nothing when he had a strong Democratic majority in Congress to make that wish the law of the land. He has reportedly shown no enthusiasm for keeping the Bush tax cuts, even the ones for the middle class, behind closed doors. Obama’s own budget proposals reach no long-term balance, and the easiest way for him to get closer would be to allow all the tax cuts, including the middle-class ones, to expire. Some of his Senate allies are talking about refusing to extend the middle-class tax cuts if Republicans insist on keeping tax rates from rising on high earners at the same time, and then trying to blame Republicans for the tax hike.

So why shouldn’t Romney say that Obama would probably (or “could”) increase middle-class taxes? The press would say Romney was a) lying and b) desperate. They’ll say those things whatever Romney does. But the charge seems to me to be true. It also seems to me that people are more inclined to believe the charge about Democrats than about Republicans. Right now, only one party is fighting on this ground, and it’s not the party that naturally owns it.

Ramesh Ponnuru — Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg View, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.