Politics & Policy

Romney Would Cut Tax Deductions for the 1 Percent. The Latest Flip-Flop?


Republican Presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign stop at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Photograph by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Republican Presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign stop at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.

At a fundraiser in Palm Beach, Fla., this past weekend, Mitt Romney told a group of high-dollar donors they’d have to make some sacrifices on their taxes if he takes the White House. Romney said he’d kill or put limits on the mortgage interest tax deduction for second homes and would likely place restrictions on property and state income tax deductions.

The first time he ran for the presidency, Romney signed Grover Norquist’s well-known Taxpayer Protection Pledge and promised to never raise taxes or slash deductions under any circumstances. In light of that, do Romney’s comments—which were supposed to be private but became public after reporters waiting outside the event overheard them—constitute a flip-flop on the anti-tax orthodoxy? We caught up with Norquist to find out.

Mitt Romney said this weekend that he was going to eliminate some popular deductions for high earners. That’s a de facto tax hike. Are you upset about it?

He was kicking out some suggestions. He’s largely endorsed the Ryan plan which sets up an alternative tax code. So there’s the tax code with all the deductions and credits, and there’s an alternative code with fewer deductions and credits and lower rates.

So you’re confident Romney won’t break the pledge?

He was only talking about revenue neutral tax reform. He signed the pledge in 2008, and he signed it again this time. He made it clear he’s not raising taxes. His comments are fine. We’re going to drop rates, broaden the base, and not raise total taxes. That’s cool.

You’ve endorsed the Ryan plan.

The Ryan plan says, we’re going to set up an alternative structure. If you wish to move into it, fine. If you like the present system, stay there. But across the street we’re building a different house. I mean, I wouldn’t trust any politician who said we’re going to rebuild you a house and you’ll love it. Well, what if I don’t?

Here’s the drill: If someone says, we’re going to eliminate deductions and credits, all of which have powerful lobbies behind them, then the homeowners and the realtors go over to the voters and say, “Oh my God, they’re getting rid of everything!” With the Ryan plan, none of the people they claim to represent have anything taken away from them. I get to decide.

But can this pass in Congress?

I believe the Ryan plan would over time be more attractive to most people … and by the way, [Romney] will be president with a Republican House and Senate, so we won’t be raising taxes. This will not be happening. Even if someone had an impure thought along the line, this won’t be happening.

Dwoskin is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in Washington. Follow her on Twitter: @lizzadwoskin.

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