All of a sudden, there are signs that Mitt Romney is moving to the center. For example, he now indicates that he does not favor lowering taxes for the wealthy, although his wording is infuriatingly vague
"People at the high end, high income taxpayers, are going to have fewer deductions and exemptions. Those numbers are going to come down. Otherwise they'd get a tax break," Romney told NBC. "And I want to make sure people understand, despite what the Democrats said at their convention, I am not reducing taxes on high income taxpayers."
Romney argued that limiting deductions and exceptions would keep government revenues up and "encourage more hiring" and "encourage growth" in the economy.
I don't see how. The way to encourage hiring is to keep tax rates on the upper end fairly high, and to offer deductions to those who do things that help the economic engine turn over -- things like hiring American workers.
The great problem here is Romney's refusal to discuss which deductions he's talking about
Still, this is fairly positive news. If Romney is moving to the center, then the GOP has finally begun to understand that their extremists repel more voters than they attract. However squishy and malleable Mitt Romney may be, he is beholden to his base. The electorate understands that as long as the Republican base remains controlled by Tea Party ideologists, then Romney himself must be classified as a Tea Partier. At the very least, he is "tea friendly."
Whoever wins this election, the GOP has to be made to understand that their current madness is toxic. Obama has not had a very successful presidency; If the Republicans had chosen a moderate like Huntsman, the GOP would be heading toward a landslide victory. The GOP would now control the Senate if the teabaggers had not scared so many people -- especially in Nevada.
The December showdown.
Here's the part that Romney isn't telling you: The great showdown on Bush-era tax cuts will occur in December, when those cuts expire. At the same time, the debt ceiling hill be hit again. When all of this comes to pass, Obama will be either a lame duck or the guy who will be president four more years. Either way, Romney will not make that call.
If Obama signs off on a further extension of the cuts -- a possibility I neither discount nor consider a foregone conclusion -- Romney need not ask for tax breaks for the wealthy; he will already have them. If the tax cuts expire, Romney will be able to say that his policy has changed because "Obama raised taxes" in his last month in office.
What will Obama do in December? So far, I've seen no better assessment than the one Kevin Drum
made in Mother Jones a year ago:
There are a few liberal pundits out there who believe that a cuts-only deal like this one isn't all that bad. Jon Chait is one of the leading proponents of this theory, and it goes like this: Maybe an all-cuts deal is bad, but by leaving taxes off the table completely it opens the door to letting all the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of next year. Basically, Obama just needs to keep insisting that he'll only sign a bill that extends the middle-class tax cuts1 but allows the tax cuts for the rich to expire. Republicans will flatly refuse to send him such a bill, and as a result all the tax cuts will expire without Obama having to break any promises.
So here's the question: Do you think this is how things will play out? Or alternatively, will Republicans cave in at the 11th hour and send Obama a bill he can sign? Or will Obama cave and end up agreeing to extend all the cuts? My guess is that Obama will stick to his guns on this and Republicans will eventually cave, which means that the middle-class cuts will get extended permanently.
That seems quasi-likely. But worse outcomes would not surprise me.