Perhaps because of the way the TPC report was written, Mr. Romney's critics assume that the first two will be literally enacted, requiring that taxes be raised on the middle class. This assumption lacks prudence.
Why? Because Governor Romney and his campaign haven't been hanging their hat on an exact rate reduction of 20 percent. If anything, over the last several weeks that's the item which they've stressed the least.
Here's Mr. Romney on Meet the Press, September 9th: "And so everything I want to do with regards to taxation follows simple principles, which is bring our rates down to encourage growth, keep revenue up by limiting deductions and exemptions and make sure we don't put any bigger burden on middle income people."
Here's Ed Gillespie, a top Romney advisor, on Fox News Sunday this weekend. Chris Wallace, the host, asked Mr. Gillespie why it is okay to tell voters that they will get a rate reduction of 20 percent but not tell them which deductions they would lose. When Mr. Gillespie responded that it is perilous to negotiate "in a campaign environment" because "you're going to lock" Republicans and Democrats into positions, Mr. Wallace responded: "You locked in on the 20 percent tax rate."
Mr. Gillespie's response: "The 20 percent tax rate, I think that people understand that that is a broad principle, that that tax rate needs to come down and we need to broaden the base. That's the principle. The principle is also that we're not going to change the share of taxes paid by upper income earners and we're going to give tax relief to the middle class and it's going to be deficit neutral."
Finally, it is worth noting that Governor Romney never mentioned the 20 percent figure in the first presidential debate.
It seems that the Romney campaign, including the governor himself, is talking about principles, and not the exact size of the rate cut. Mr. Gillespie is arguing that a "20 percent tax rate cut" is a way of communicating to voters a principle: that Governor Romney wants to significantly lower rates. But not in isolation -- the rate reductions will be accompanied by base broadeners in order to keep the tax reform both revenue and distributionally neutral. Governor Romney said much the same.
It is true that if you take Mr. Romney's three promises literally then something has to give. But it seems odd to assume that what will give is the promise not to increase taxes on the middle class, especially since the Romney campaign has been intentionally playing down the specific 20 percent figure.
Perhaps it is appropriate to slam Mr. Romney for his lack of details and to assume that his plan will result in an outcome that maximizes the election-year political benefit to his opponent. But this voter prefers a statement of principles and an absence of details over no comprehensive reform plan at all. We'll soon see if the plurality of Americans shares that sentiment.