Romney critics speak too soon on mortgage tax plan

Mitt Romney unwittingly unveiled one of his policy changes on Sunday evening at a private fundraiser in Palm Beach: He wants to do away with the mortgage interest tax break for second homes. While this seems like a logical step, critics have already crawled out of the woodwork.  

We wouldn’t know any of this if it weren’t for the intrepid reporters eavesdropping from a public sidewalk, so props to those folks for bringing us two days of endless speculation.

But what else do we have but speculation with the Romney campaign? He’s brought us very little specific policy changes — especially as it relates to housing. This small revelation on the mortgage tax deduction for second homes is something of a breakthrough, all things considered, and has led to loads of reporters and commentators speculating as to what the effect of the policy change would be. 

Adding fuel to the conjecture flame, Deborah Soloman at Bloomberg says by her, admittedly, rough calculations the plan would save about $8 billion. Pretty small change given that this is part of Romney’s plan to cut spending enough to give everyone a 20% income tax break regardless of income bracket. 

But Soloman left out a part of the calculation: Romney said he’s also planning on doing away with the property and state income tax deductions second-home earners can claim. And unlike the tax credit, you can deduct property and state income taxes on any number of homes you own — not just the second.  

How much both of those would save, even roughly, is difficult to calculate. Given that we don’t know if Romney is including all second homeowners in this new plan (he said it would apply to “high-income” individuals, presumably, though, if you own a second home you would be considered in that range), the numbers are hazy. 

He’s recently gotten slammed for the plan being a “drop in the bucket” or “bad math” because of how little it will save.

It seems to me that the Romney-bashers have stepped too far forward. He hasn’t even released the full extent of the plan, why put your neck out there to criticize just yet? If the savings turn out to be more than you expect them to be, you may have some egg on your face.

At the very least, this plan is logical. Even if it saves $8 billion instead of $100 billion, why not do away with an illogical tax deduction that, by definition, favors the wealthy?

Haven’t Romney opponents wanted more fair treatment for low- and average-income Americans (in other words, those that are content with one home instead of two)?

As Solomon points out, “The Center for American Progress calculates that households with incomes between $40,000 and $75,000 receive an average $523 from the mortgage-interest deduction, while households with incomes above $250,000 receive $5,459.” 

This seems to be the mortgage equivalent of the Buffett Rule, which I assume many of the people criticizing Romney’s plan support. Romney’s plan will only affect the 6% of American homeowners who have a second home, and the Buffett Rule will only affect 1 in 1,000 Americans.

But the people who support the Buffett Rule don’t much care. They say it’s about fairness, not about how much money it will raise or how many people it will affect. Well, if that’s the case, why should Romney’s plan to raise taxes on the people who likely fall into the same category any different? 

This is a step toward fair treatment — even if it’s on a small scale. This is also quite a lot from a presidential candidate who owns four homes on his own. Though, I would imagine, he probably doesn’t have a mortgage on them. 

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