GOP Lawmakers Short On Specifics About Tax Loopholes To Close

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney smiles as he speaks to advisers and staff members on
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney smiles as he speaks to advisers and staff members on his campaign plane in Denver, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

DENVER -- Mitt Romney refuses to identify which tax deductions and loopholes he would close in order to pay for the tax cuts he would push as president, arguing that coming up with such details is Congress' job. But at this point, Republican lawmakers aren't giving many specifics either.

Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) said that any specifics "will be general in nature."

"We’re going to go through on a case-by-case basis, because part of the challenge we face right now is that we have a tax code that businesses have built out their business plan on," he told ThinkProgress. "That's why you want to be cautious with some specifics right now, because if that goes away tomorrow, we're creating some of the indecisiveness that's there."

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), walking around at the Conservative Political Action Conference here on Thursday afternoon, said that if he had his way, Congress would wipe the slate clean and then decide which deductions to put into the tax code, rather than deciding which ones to keep.

"I would do away with all of them and start with what the rates would be. ... And then decide, OK, do we want to have a deduction for charitable giving? Do we want to have a deduction for mortgage interest? And then as you add those things back in, obviously you have to raise the rates accordingly," he told HuffPost. "I think that's the best approach to it."

When lawmakers did identify deductions or loopholes they'd be willing to let go, the tax breaks tended to be relatively small or obscure, nothing big enough to offset the tax cuts Romney would like.

Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), also at CPAC 2012, said he was looking forward to sitting down with Democrats and hammering out fixes to the tax code. He pointed to the deduction for luxury skyboxes as one he'd be open to getting rid of. Right now, corporations that purchase such suites can deduct up to 50 percent of their cost, as well as the cost of refreshments.

"What we should do on these massive new ideas is put the ideas up for a year, hammer around on them and then maybe put them in place for a year, and then the third year. ... That's what should have been done with the health care bill," Pearce said, adding, "So I think what Mr. Romney is saying is that it would be Congress' idea on what the technicalities are. It's a give and take, it's a balancing deal."

Pearce said he was skeptical about ending tax breaks for corporate jet owners -- a frequent proposal from Democrats -- because he worried it would hurt the corporate jet industry and lead to a loss of jobs.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), talking to reporters, said there were "literally thousands" of deductions he'd be willing to eliminate, but he named just two -- for rum manufacturers and racetracks.

To really pay for Romney's tax cuts, Congress may have to go after deductions that are bigger and quite popular with the public, like deductions for charitable donations, tax breaks for homeowners and credits for people who put money away for retirement. In fact, about half of the money lost to "tax expenditures" comes from just 10 tax breaks.

When asked by ThinkProgress whether Congress would therefore have to reduce or eliminate some of these larger expenditures, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said no.

"You wouldn't believe how many small ones add up to big ones," she said. "This tax code has become so riddled with special interest loopholes that are giveaways to particular groups of people or industries."

"I think that most people believe that mortgage deduction is one that would have to remain," Ayotte added. "Now, things like a second home? Those are issues we should have an honest discussion about."


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