A Scary Guide to the GOP Tax Plans

When did tax-reform plans become so sexy? It seems like every day now GOP candidates are flaunting a new, slimmer tax plan, complete with a catchy name and nonsensical (or nonexistent) ideas supporting them. After a while, they can all start to look the same, but they vary widely on the craziness spectrum. Homeland Security decided that colors are passé as a way to measure threat, so here is my patented Herman Cain “I am America” smile threat level system.

The Baseline: There are some basic conservative calling cards that the GOP tax plans share. They would all eliminate the 15 percent capital gains tax (Mitt Romney would only eliminate the tax for families making less than $200,000 a year) and the estate tax, and all the candidates have vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank. If your only source of news for the past couple of weeks has been the GOP debates, you would think that these were the two most dangerous pieces of legislation ever to be passed in the United States, right up there with The Great Society and the Social Security Act.

The following tax plans differ only in terms of complexity—and absurdity.

Herman Cain

9-9-9 is the most well-known of the proposed tax plans. Cain’s 9-9-9 plan would scrap the entire federal tax system and replace it with a nine percent business flat tax, nine percent individual flat tax, and nine percent sales tax. You might recognize 9-9-9 from hearing it repeatedly on the news—between Cain’s pizza inspired “Imagine” cover and the never ending refrain of “number nine, number nine, number nine,” you’d think the Fab Four were sponsoring the former pizza executive’s cross country book tour.

You might also remember 9-9-9 from your own virtual try at governance on Sim City 4—the video game’s default tax rate is the same as the one devised by Cain’s one-man economic powerhouse Rich Lowrie, a Midwest Wells Fargo wealth manager with no policy experience. Although Cain’s plan would simplify the United States tax system, it is highly regressive and would be a boon to wealthy Americans while giving 84 percent of Americans a considerable tax hike. Academics even say the plan is incorrectly named, according to USC tax professor Edward Kleinbard the plan is actually “the economic equivalent of a 27 percent payroll tax on employees.” The media and other GOP contenders have bashed the plan enough that voters are wise to its failings—56 percent of respondents in a new Washington Post/ABC News poll have an unfavorable impression of the Cain campaign slogan. The Cain train may have started the tax-plan media frenzy, but the campaign is so ill-equipped to stage a primary coup that liberals don’t need to imagine a world without tax breaks just yet.

How Scared Should You Be of This Plan:

Rick Perry

In the latest of a series of bad campaign decisions, the Josh Brolin as Dubya look-alike jumped on the flat tax bandwagon after the idea had lost all its trendy newness. The same arguments used against 9-9-9 are now being used to refute the logic of Perry’s 20 percent across-the-board flat tax. Although conservative voters are drawn to the simplicity of the plans, the proposals will actually raise tax rates for most Americans. Perry also embraced Romney-esque equivocation by allowing individuals and businesses to opt-out and continue using their current rate. The Texas governor’s fall from grace is happening so rapidly that his chances of victory seem slim, but his embrace of the flat tax—a tax policy favored by Republicans—wins him a score of four creepy smiles.

How Scared Should You Be of This Plan:

Mitt Romney

Has a really long and boring tax-reform plan that no one is too enthused about. In case you are one of the 99% of people who don’t have time to read his 160-page book, here are the most important details—Romney wants to reduce the corporate tax rate by ten percent to 25 percent and is all for a simpler tax system. However, Mitt is staying off the flat tax bandwagon because he apparently believes a flat tax favors the wealthy. This outcome doesn’t seem to trouble Romney too much given that as a whole, his tax plan looks like something his money-chomping Bain friends would applaud. His plan is bound to change on a state-to-state basis over the course of the primary after the Romney campaign finds out what likely voters want. By Super Tuesday, it could look like a Five Guys menu, with Romney promising a totally customizable tax code where voters can pick and choose whatever they want whether it’s healthy for the country or not (and because Romney loooooves greasy food.) The Mitt Romney tax plan doesn’t look too crazy at first glance, but it’s also the plan with the best chance of becoming a reality—and looking radically different a year from now.

How Scared Should You Be of This Plan:

Jon Huntsman

I don’t think there is any need to explain Jon Huntsman’s plan. If this hipster candidate even had a platform, I don’t think we would have heard about it yet. If Huntsman had to explain his views on taxes, I’m sure he’d make an obscure music reference that no conservative would appreciate and call it a day, so...

How Scared Should You Be of This Plan:

Michele Bachmann

Bachmann is trying the beloved GOP electoral tactic of appealing to Reagan nostalgia by declaring her intent to reinstate the Gipper’s tax plan, which “brought the economic miracle of the 1980s,” according to the former IRS agent. Bachmann also asserts that Perry’s plan is also an 80s remix, directly descended from great father Ron through her. Despite her promises of a Reagan revival in the White House, she hasn’t come up with a plan as expansive as her opponents. In reality, Bachmann has no chance of winning the nomination, so her hopes of bringing back the 80s will have to be limited to her Michael Jackson-inspired debate wear.

How Scared Should You Be of This Plan:

Newt Gingrich

Like Perry, Gingrich made the crowning jewel of his tax plan an optional flat tax “that would allow Americans the freedom to choose to file their taxes on a postcard, saving hundreds of billions in unnecessary costs each year,” although Newt’s is five percent less than Rick’s 20. Gingrich would also replace the payroll tax with personal investment accounts. Unlike Perry, Gingrich would not allow taxpayers to deduct their state and local income taxes from their federal taxes, arguing that his lower overall rate renders this step unnecessary. Basically, Gingrich’s plan is Perry-lite, and Newt will forever remain a relic of the 90s anyway, so ... direct all your postcard tax reform worries to the Perry camp.

How Scared Should You Be of This Plan:

Rick Santorum

Santorum doesn’t really have a tax-reform plan now, perhaps because he realizes he doesn’t need one. His role in the tax debate was limited to calling out Herman Cain for the stupidity of the 9-9-9 plan in the Nevada debate, and for voicing his disapproval of flat taxes in general. Santorum’s tax-reform plans don’t even deserve a Cain creepy smile. In the end, America should worry less about Rick Santorum than he does about being affiliated with the alternative definition of Santorum.

Ron Paul

It’s no surprise that America’s favorite libertarian is all about reducing taxes. Like your crazy great-uncle come Christmastime, Ron always forgets that he told us the same story about how much better taxes were when he was our age last election cycle and that no one cared then either. Now that everyone else is talking about taxes, Uncle Ron is definitely not going to back away from his signature battle-cry. Ron Paul’s tax-reform is definitely the most radical of the bunch. If elected, he would push a Liberty Amendment repealing the income tax, drop the corporate tax rate to 15 percent, and extend the Bush tax cuts. Like its ill-conceived tax-reform brethren, the craziness of this plan is tempered by the fact that it will never gain traction outside of Ron Paul’s brain.

How Scared Should You Be of This Plan: 

The GOP Primary

In the end, the candidates’ individual grades don’t matter. Even if any of these candidates were elected, these plans would never be enacted. No Congress would ever pass a 9-9-9 or a Liberty Amendment, and the bully pulpit will never possess enough power to pass such legislation in a polarized political climate. All these plans are campaign ploys to attract the radically conservative base that will decide the GOP primary. After that, whatever candidate is chosen will probably inch closer to the center (in which case Romney might be the best candidate since everyone’s used to him changing his mind already.) In light of this, the fact that some of the candidates are willing to go to such lengths to appeal to a radical minority is a frightening thing in itself, giving the GOP primary as a whole a truly terrifying and Halloween-appropriate grade—the perfect 10.

How Scared Should You Be of the GOP Primary: