Bob Somerby has been complaining for some time that major news outlets have never really reported on the basic impossibility of Mitt Romney's tax plan. Today he reminds me of what I said about this a couple of months ago:
Quite sensibly, Kevin Drum suggested that the Post and the Times might be planning fuller reports in the future. But alas! One week went by, then several more passed.
Sensible! And yet, it didn't really happen. Annie Lowrey and David Kocieniewski produced a single he-said-she-said piece for the Times in mid-September, while the Post doesn't appear to have had anything at all from its straight news reporters.
I dunno. Maybe the conventions of news reporting in America simply make it impossible to write about this. It's too complicated and there are too many dueling studies. News reporters aren't allowed to dismiss hackwork even when they know that's what it is, so hack studies end up getting as much play as real ones.
For what it's worth, though, I think that last night might have changed the playing field a bit. Here's how Romney described his plan during Tuesday's debate:
I’m going to bring rates down across the board for everybody, but I’m going to limit deductions and exemptions and credits....One way of doing that would be say everybody gets — I’ll pick a number — $25,000 of deductions and credits, and you can decide which ones to use. Your home mortgage interest deduction, charity, child tax credit, and so forth, you can use those as part of filling that bucket, if you will, of deductions.
There's obviously still some weasel room in this since Romney only says that this is "one way" of implementing his tax plan. Still, it's now the most public, most specific version of his plan out there, and more to the point, it's also very easy to evaluate. You don't have to figure out which deductions are on the table, or how much each one is worth. No more arguing over life insurance interest exclusions or state tax deductions. All you have to do is analyze the value of itemized deductions for each income group and then figure out how a $25,000 cap would affect their tax obligations. There are still some ambiguities to worry about (is the tax exclusion of healthcare benefits part of this bucket?), but overall, this is fairly straightforward.
At this point, I'm not sure that anyone cares, though. The media seems disinclined to really hold Romney to account for his tax plans; the public seems to consider it a tedious argument over a bunch of confusing numbers; and the Tax Policy Center may think that yet another review of Romney's tax plan isn't worth its time. We'll see.