Paul Ryan’s Middle-Class Tax Hike


In Paul Ryan’s budget roadmap, he lays out a “goal” of reducing the top tax rate from 39.6 percent to 25 percent. That’s a big tax cut for the rich! Is it possible to do this while (a) keeping total tax revenue the same and (b) not raising taxes on the middle class to make up for it?

You may recall that we had this argument during the 2012 campaign, when Mitt Romney insisted he could do this by closing various loopholes but refused to say which loopholes he would close. That didn’t stop America’s tax analysts from digging into the numbers, though, and they concluded that his plan was impossible. The arithmetic just didn’t work. And since Ryan’s plan is even more aggressive than Romney’s, there’s really no chance it will work either. If Ryan really wants to cut the top rate to 25 percent, then one way or another, the middle class is going to pay more.

Greg Sargent says Democrats are salivating at this thought:

I’m told that national Democrats are planning to mount a major campaign to hammer Republican candidates — particularly ones in swing areas — over a specific aspect of the Paul Ryan budget: The possibility that it could result in middle class tax hikes.

….When Romney found himself caught in this trap, it was devastating for him, because it perfectly laid bare the core priorities animating the GOP. It showed that the party was so committed to reducing tax rates on the rich — already a deeply unpopular position — that it was willing to further burden the middle class if necessary to do so, which would have been even more unpopular.

….And so, Dems are hoping to use the Ryan budget to ensnare Republican candidates, particularly ones in marginal districts, in the same trap that tripped up Romney. Only this time it could potentially be worse. After all, last time Republicans had just routed Democrats in the 2010 elections, and could plausibly argue that core questions about tax fairness, the size of government, and who should pay for it hadn’t been settled by the electorate. But now Republicans have committed themselves to this same set of policies and priorities after running on them in a presidential race and multiple Senate and Congressional elections and losing decisively across the board.

Well, we’ll see. It was never clear to me just how devastating this really was for Romney, though. The problem is that there’s nothing concrete to point to. The “middle-class tax increase” is the result of a bunch of calculations in a white paper, and that’s a little hard to get people riled up about. If it becomes an issue, Ryan will just do the same thing that Romney did: insist that the details will work out eventually, turning the whole thing into a tedious he-said-she-said spat between Democrats and Republicans. It will probably get tuned out pretty quickly.

So….I’m not sure about this. It might work, I guess. A juicy tax cut on the rich is never an easy thing to defend, regardless of how the numbers work out. I’m just not sure it’s a killer attack.

MORE HARD-HITTING JOURNALISM

In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones, a special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.