This weekend, Mitt Romney pledged to David Gregory that he would not cut taxes for the wealthy.
That seemed to confuse even George Will. But it needn't have, because there's a way to do it that makes everybody roughly equally happy or equally unhappy ... and wealthy taxpayers ecstatic.
Stay with me here. The logic is easy.
Romney said he would not cut taxes (or "the tax burden") for the wealthy. He did not say he wouldn't cut rates. In fact, he said that he would cut rates, but he would also limit deductions and credits. Even George Will, who can - and does - defend any conservative view, no matter how intellectually deficient that view is, bit on that. Will pointed out - correctly - that cutting the biggest deductions (for real estate mortgages, charitable giving and state and local taxes) and taxing employer health benefits wouldn't produce much revenue from the wealthiest, but they would seriously impact middle class taxpayers who do take advantage of just those deductions. Hence, rate cuts for everyone.
Everyone who interviewed Romney and Ryan wanted specifics. Mitt Romney stayed at the level of high principles and Paul Ryan artlessly explained - patiently, to us know-littles - that they wanted to be specific and public, and they would be because Congress will have a debate about the details ... and then they would also be public.
Here's how Mitt can do it.
Mitt does what he says by decreasing and possibly erasing the value of some deductions and credits for the wealthy (several provisions of the tax code today, like the Alternative Minimum Tax, already do that) but he reduces rates for both the rich and the middle income taxpayers.
Got that? And the rich will like it. Why? Because it keeps the one thing Republican policymakers love more than anything else ... keeping rates linked for the rich and the middle. Maybe just two brackets, for example. But keep the rate cuts packaged together, just as the Bush tax cuts did. Anything - anything! - to avoid de-linking rates and thereby making progressive taxation moreso.
And Mitt Romney is likely to keep a few more things the wealthy love: reduced rates on long term capital gains and on interest, and the manipulation that converts what most of us think of as income into "carried interest." It is unthinkable that a Republican President or a Republican Congress would increase rates or change the tax treatment of any of those, thereby disincenting (according to them) the formation of capital.
So, how much money would the Romney non-specific proposal take in to reduce the deficit? Ah, there's why virtually every economist, accountant and budget expert to be interviewed Sunday and Monday was skeptical. Justifiably so. Besides, you can't know the math until you know the specifics, and we won't get them, yet.
The political strategists could have pointed out - though I haven't heard any so far who did with any force - that this simply finesses the problem to Congress. Why hey, if Congress can't agree on which deductions and credits to cut and which to keep, well, that isn't our problem, same as the botched GOP/White House agreement on sequestration. The fact that something can't be done politically never disturbs people who profession is kicking the can down the road.
But those are discussions for after the election.
The Romney/Ryan tax policy is a shell game.