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"I'll pick a number"

That one quick phrase, which goes by so fast that one can miss it, holds the key to Romney's duplicity. Having been pushed to insist that his tax plan will not reduce revenues, the central question becomes: then who are the winners and who are the losers? Who will pay more and who less? And the key to that question is the elimination of deductions: the magic "loopholes" that are supposed to raise enough to offset the 20% rate cut. Everyone ought to be focussed like a laser on that question, because the losers are the people for whom the loss of, say, the mortgage deduction will raise their tax bill more than the rate cut would lower it. So what exactly happens to the deductions?

Romney has a strategy for avoiding a clear answer. There is a limited all-purpose deduction, so he can say he is not eliminating the mortgage deduction, or charitable deductions, or education deductions: put whatever you want in "the bucket", up to a limit. So the $64,000 questions is: What is the limit? This is the question that determines the winners and losers. And in the debate, what he said was: "I'll pick a number— $25,000". Some mindless pundits are focussing on the wrong part of this. They are focussing on the $25,000, as if that were an actual proposal. But it isn't. It was just a number pulled out of a hat. Or more exactly, out of his posterior. Romney, who insists that his numbers add up, admits that he has no numbers at all. He's just picking them out of the air for illustration. We must make sure that the focus is on that phrase "I'll pick a number". He has to be pressed: is that an actual proposal? If the impression of $25,000 is left unchallenged, this is a defeat, but if the vapidity of "I'll pick a number" is the focus, it can be a big win.

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