Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy


Tim Murphy is a senior reporter at Mother Jones. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy@motherjones.com.

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Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R).

Since when did Rick Santorum become the champion of the middle class? At Tuesday's GOP presidential debate in Las Vegas (the eighth in four months, if you're scoring at home), the former Pennsylvania senator led the charge against newly crowned front-runner Herman Cain, alleging that Cain's 9-9-9 tax plan was the last thing middle-class Americans need. Prefacing his attack with the obligatory, "Herman, I like you," Santorum stated that the tax plan, which replaces the entire tax code with a 9-percent national sales tax, 9-percent income tax, and 9-percent payroll tax, would significantly raise taxes on all but the highest earners.

From there, the rest of the field piled on. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) called the plan "regressive" because of the impact it has on low-income earners. Texas Gov. Rick Perrry, happy to see someone else become a punching bag for a change, chided Cain for adding a national sales tax on top of existing state sales taxes. And Mitt Romney, pretending not to know the answer to the question, asked Cain if the federal tax would replace all state sales taxes. When Cain told him no (that video clip will come in handy), Romney announced he was against it.

So who's right? Santorum—and it's not even close. Just check out this chart, from the non-partisan Tax Policy Institute (via Kevin Drum).

Data from Tax Policy InstituteData from Tax Policy Institute

Santorum went on to call for a renewed focus on a lack of "income mobility" in the United States, noting that it's easier to pull yourself up by the bootstraps in Europe than in the United States. So there you have it: Rick Santorum is the Zucotti Park candidate.

The tentative GOP primary schedule works just fine for Mitt Romney—which is why everyone else wants to change it.

On Tuesday, the Republican presidential candidates will gather in Las Vegas to debate the short- and long-term impacts of economic inequality and how to address them Mitt Romney's Mormonism. This time, Buddy Roemer and Gary Johnson won't be the only candidates watching from home: Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman has announced he'll be skipping the event in protest of the state GOP's decision to hold its caucus on January 14, which he believes is encroaching on the rightful domain of historically first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary. As he put it, "The New Hampshire primary is too important and the process itself is too important to be compromised."

Huntsman is saying this mostly because he's bet his entire campaign on a strong showing in the Granite State, but he isn't the only candidate to express dissatisfaction with Nevada. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has pledged not to contest the caucuses unless the date changes. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum recently canceled his planned appearances in Nevada, out of respect for Iowa, New Hampshire, and Christmas. Newt Gingrich, who is reportedly still running, has also vowed not to campaign there. Pseudo-front-runner Mitt Romney, whose success depends on winning both New Hampshire and Nevada, has publicly supported the latter state's efforts, while behind the scenes his campaign lobbied for the controversial date change. Rick Perry, who has been endorsed by Nevada's GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval, has stood by the state, as well. Herman Cain has said that while he's not familiar with the specifics of the situation, he stands by Israel.*

GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain is refusing to disclose the names of his top policy advisers.

According to the latest poll, if not necessarily the conventional wisdom, Atlanta businessman Herman Cain is currently the frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination. The natural consequence is that people now care about the actual ideas he has proposed, and the results aren't pretty: Independent analyses of Cain's signature 9-9-9 tax plan show that it would double taxes on the middle class, and hike taxes on low-income Americans by a factor of nine. That's less surprising when you consider that the plan was crafted not by a professional economist or budget wonk, but by Rich Lowrie, a financial manager at a Wells Fargo office in Pepper Pike, Ohio, with a B.S. in accounting.

So how has Cain responded to the scrutiny? By clamming up. CNN's Kevin Liptak reports that Cain is now refusing to name any of his other economic advisers, because he's concerned that they will become punching bags for his opponents:

Chart of the Day: Taxing the Poor

ABC News has crunched the numbers and reported what independent analysts had basically been saying for a while now: Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan, despite his promises to the contrary, would almost double the amount middle-class Americans pay in taxes (low-income earners would see their tax burden increase nine-fold.)

There are a number of different components to this, but one of the most glaring elements of 9-9-9 is that it puts a 9 percent federal sales tax on food. That's on top of whatever other sales tax exists (Alabama and Mississippi, for instance, already apply a full sales tax to groceries). Cain says that this is only fair, because everyone buys groceries. But that ignores the fact that taxing groceries is incredibly regressive. As you can see in this handy chart, poor people have to spend a much higher percentage of their income on food than rich people. Obviously, with more disposable income you can buy fancier varieties of food and do all your shopping at Whole Foods, but there's a limit even then; it's not as if Warren Buffett subsists entirely on $1,600 muffins:

Pretty self-explanatory: The less money you have, the more of it you have to spend on food.: Courtesy of the USDASelf-explanatory: The less money you have, the more of it you have to spend on food.: Courtesy of the USDAPoor Americans spend a lower percentage of their income on food than the rest of the world because poor Americans are pretty well-off, relative to the rest of the world, but the overall trend is pretty obvious. Cain has attempted to argue away the point that 9-9-9 is regressive by noting that under 9-9-9, there would be no tax on used goods. Food isn't much good once it's already been used once, though.

GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

If nothing else, Mitt Romney came prepared to Tuesday's GOP presidential debate. While his top rival Rick Perry seemed only semi-alert (perhaps he needs more sleep?), Romney was more than up to the task of responding to a steady stream of jabs from the field's also-rans. He told Herman Cain that sometimes short and simple plans are "inadequate" when the Georgia businessman asked Romney to recite his economic plan from memory.* And when former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman challenged Romney on his record at the private equity firm Bain Capital, stating (accurately) that Romney was not a job creator, he fought back. Hard.

Here's what Huntsman asked: "Some might see you because of your past employment with Bain Capital as more of a financial engineer, somebody who breaks down businesses, destroys jobs, as opposed to creating jobs and opportunity, leveraging up, spinning off, enriching shareholders. Since you were number 47 as governor of the state of Massachusetts—where we were number one for example—and the whole discussion around this campaign is going to be job creation, how can you win that debate given your background?" Romney had been asked a variation of the question at previous debates, but this time he came prepared with specifics:

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