It seemed fitting that Quinnipiac would drop a poll showing Linda McMahon slightly ahead of Chris Murphy in the Connecticut Senate race (48 percent to 47 percent), just as the morning pundits were declaring Mitt Romney the winner of the first presidential debate. This is because they are birds of a feather. Both Gov. Romney and Mrs. McMahon are wealthy individuals who are running as outsiders on the notion that their business acumen is what’s needed to straighten out the “career politicians” in Washington.
Both have a spending advantage over their opponent — Romney through outside Super Pacs running attack ads against his opponent, and McMahon with her willingness to use her personal fortune to carpet-bomb the airwaves and the Internet.
But the greatest resemblance is in their mutability; both Romney and McMahon try to be all things to all people. Thus it’s hard to know what they stand for or what they would do in elected office.
Take tax policy, for instance. Romney stood in front of the American people in Wednesday night’s debate and said: “I don’t have a $5 trillion tax cut . . . My view is that we ought to provide tax relief to people in the middle class. But I’m not going to reduce the share of taxes paid by high-income people.”
Meanwhile, at Mitt Romney.com under Issues -Tax/“Mitt’s Plan: Individual”, we see this:
• Make permanent, across-the-board 20 percent cut in marginal rates
• Maintain current tax rates on interest, dividends, and capital gains
• Eliminate taxes for taxpayers with AGI below $200,000 on interest, dividends, and capital gains
• Eliminate the Death Tax
• Repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)
Correct me if I’m wrong, but cutting marginal rates across the board and eliminating the Inheritance Tax (don’t you love the “Death Tax” obfuscation?) would indeed reduce taxes on wealthy individuals.
Romney also stated, “I’m not looking to cut massive taxes and to reduce — the revenues going to the government. My — number one principle is there’ll be no tax cut that adds to the deficit . . . But I do want to reduce the burden being paid by middle-income Americans.”
Sounds marvelous, right? But folks, don’t forget that in Romney-world, “middle class” is between $200,000- $250,000. Yet when his economic adviser, Harvard economist Martin Feldstein, declared Romney’s plan mathematically possible, he assumed the middle class to be $100,000 a year, which means the $17,000 itemized deduction cap Romney proposed in Wednesday’s debate is going hit a lot of middle class families. Hard. Mortgage interest and health insurance premiums alone could eat that up in no time.
The truth is, it’s hard to know exactly how much Mr. Romney’s tax plan will cost because he changes positions faster than you can flip through the pages of the Kama Sutra.
Mrs. McMahon is similarly slippery about her actual policy proposals. Back in 2010, she complained that talking about specifics became a “political football” for opponents to exploit. Unfortunately for Mrs. McMahon, voters like to hear these specifics, especially when they involve important issues like taxes and Medicare. As much as Mrs. McMahon would prefer to remain a blank slate onto which voters can project their fantasies while she spends millions trying to define Rep. Chris Murphy, her wish to be all things to all people has come back to haunt her.
On April 20, Mrs. McMahon told Tea Party supporters she believes in “sunset provisions when passing this kind of legislation” in reference to Social Security and Medicare, echoing Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’ 2011 speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference. State Rep. Livvy Floren, R-Greenwich, defended McMahon. “I think she just misused the word. ‘Sunset’ is almost like legislative speak. I just don’t think she knew what that term meant, because there’s no indication she ever wanted to get rid of it,” Floren said. “When something sunsets it expires, and that wasn’t her goal.”
One wonders which is a more disturbing idea for voters — that McMahon wants a sunset provision in Social Security reform legislation or that she’s a candidate willing to spend over $13 million of her own money (this time — in her last unsuccessful attempt at a Senate run it was over $50 million) without understanding basic legislative concepts. Personally, I find both rather frightening.
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. Long before the financial meltdown, she worked as a securities analyst and earned her MBA in Finance from the Stern School at NYU.