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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Reuters

This opinion piece originally appeared at Reuters.com.

With so much attention placed on Mitt Romney’s verbal blunders, much less has been given to his written plans for the economy and taxes.

The Republican frontrunner’s 160-page “plan for jobs and economic growth,” which he released in September, contains some sound ideas. He would encourage more Americans to save and invest. And one of his proposals would strengthen America’s status as a technological powerhouse. See the plan here.

But there’s a side to the plan that would raise taxes on the poorest 125 million Americans while tilting tax cuts further toward the rich.

President George W. Bush cut taxes for almost everyone who paid income taxes. Romney would make the Bush tax cuts permanent. But that’s only a first step.

He would also raise taxes on poor families with children at home and those going to college. Romney does this by reducing benefits from the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit and by ending the American Opportunity tax credit for college education.

Without these tax breaks, the poorest fifth of taxpayers would pay $157 more in taxes in 2015 than under current policy, the Tax Policy Center says in its analysis of Romney’s plan. The second poorest group would pay $82 more, according to the center, whose past work has been praised by Republicans and Democrats alike.

TAX CUTS

While Romney would make these two groups — the poorest 125 million Americans — pay higher taxes, the top 60 percent all would get tax cuts. The top tenth of one percent would save, on average, $464,000 a year, the Tax Policy Center’s analysis says.

His plan gives one third of his tax cuts to the top tenth of one percent of taxpayers. By comparison, Bush gave this group only one eighth of his cuts.

Romney would also eliminate estate and gift taxes, a policy that I believe would damage the spirit of striving that has served us so well until now, replacing it with a new era of dynastic wealth.

Romney’s campaign did not answer specific questions about his tax proposals, referring me instead to the plan itself.

On the more positive side of the ledger, Romney’s plan would let households earning less than $200,000 a year collect capital gains, dividends and interest tax-free. That would encourage more Americans to build cash nest eggs and to own stocks and bonds above and beyond their retirement plans.

Unlike today, when a shrinking minority of Americans has savings accounts and bonds, in the 1970s a majority earned interest. Back then, a couple could collect $400 of interest and dividends tax-free.

Romney’s plan would give unlimited tax-free interest, dividends and capital gains to about 98 percent of households. (I have recommended the same tax break be given to everybody, but with a $1,000 cap, twice that for married couples, on tax-free capital income.)

NO TAX BREAK

Given the news coverage of the low tax rate Romney paid in 2010, and expects to pay for 2011, people could easily assume he would get a huge tax break under his own plan. That is not the case.

Under his plan, high-income taxpayers would continue to pay 15 percent on their capital income, about the same rate Romney paid in 2010 and expects to pay for 2011.

As a taxpayer, Romney would do much better under rival Newt Gingrich’s tax plan. Gingrich would let everyone collect capital gains, dividends and interest tax-free. Had that been the law in 2010, Romney’s tax bill would have been cut by at least 97 percent, my calculations show.

Another provision in Romney’s plan would be to raise the ceiling on the number of visas issued to holders of advanced degrees in math, science and engineering who have job offers in those fields from U.S. companies.

While this seems like a smart idea, it does have a downside. Software engineers and others already complain that foreign workers on visas are depressing their wages, and Romney’s plan would likely make it worse. But employers will love it.

Romney, whose father was born in Mexico, would also let foreign-born students stay in the United States, provided they earn advanced degrees in engineering, math or science. And he would open the doors to wealthy people because he believes they are “job creators.”

Those last two provisions seem very smart. It is also exactly what happens in Canada, where one in five Canadians is an immigrant.

These are serious issues with potentially far-reaching implications. This is what the media should be examining, instead of verbal trivia from the campaign trail.

Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]