During an interview Sunday on Face the Nation, GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan was pressed repeatedly by host Norah O'Donnell for specifics on the Romney-Ryan tax reform plan. But Obama made it through an interview that aired on the same program without being pressed for specifics on his own tax and spending plans.
"There isn't a Romney plan that's been specific about which deductions and loopholes he will close," O'Donnell said. Romney has proposed a tax reform that would lower tax rates and reduce or eliminate tax loopholes to make up for any loss in revenue.
Ryan mentioned studies that show it is possible to lower rates and reduce or nix loopholes without having a net tax increase on the middle class, and he said that a Romney administration would work with the new Congress on dealing with specific loopholes.
"We want to have a debate out in front, work with Congress, work with the public to find out what are the priorities we want to have in the tax system," Ryan said.
Asking Ryan to name which loopholes he and Romney will close is a perfectly fine question. (I asked him the same question in April 2011.) But compare and contrast CBS's Ryan interview with its Obama interview on the very same program (emphasis added):
PELLEY: If you win, would you be willing to compromise? What are you will to give in order to complete this grand bargain on the budget that have failed?
OBAMA: Well, I -- keep in mind that the trillion dollars that cut, it was a painful exercise. You know, there are some programs that are worthy but we just can't afford right now. And I'm willing to do more on that front, because as I argued at the convention, those of us who believe that government can be a force for good when it comes to creating opportunity for folks who are willing to work hard and play by the rules to get into the middle class.
We have an obligation to make sure government works and there's still waste there. There's still programs that don't work. There are still ways that we can make it leaner and more efficient. So I'm, you know, more than happy to work with the Republicans.
And what I've said is in reducing our deficits, we can make sure that we cut $2.50 for every $1 of increased revenue.
PELLEY: That's the deal they turned down, Mr. President.
OBAMA: And that -- well and, you know, that's part of what this election's about.
Governor Romney said he wouldn't take a deal with $10 of spending cuts for $1 of revenue increases.
And the problem is the math, or the arithmetic, as President Clinton said, doesn't add up. You can't reduce the deficit unless you take a balanced approach that says we've got to make government leaner and more efficient, but we've also got to ask people like me or Governor Romney who have done better than anybody else over the course of the last decade and who's taxes are just about lower than they've been in the last 50 years to do a little bit more.
And if we go back to the tax rates for folks making more than $250,000 a year, back to the rates that we had under Bill Clinton, we can close the deficit, stabilize the economy, keep taxes on middle class families low, provide the certainty that I think all of us will be looking for and I'm also going, by the way, to make some adjustments to Medicare and Medicaid that would strengthen the programs. But the way to do that is to keep health care costs low. It's not to voucherize programs so that suddenly seniors are the ones who are finding their expenses much higher.
The follow-up questions for Obama are pretty obvious: What specifically would he cut?
If Obama wants a $4 trillion deficit reduction package that has a 2.5-to-1 ratio of spending cuts to revenue increases, how would he cut $2.9 trillion in spending and raise $1.1 trillion in revenues?
We know that he'd like to raise taxes on those making more than $250,000, but that would still leave him a few hundred billion short of $1.1 trillion.
Obama says the Romney-Ryan plans for Medicare and Medicaid are bad, but at least they've been specific on how they'd reform these programs. How exactly would Obama keep "costs low" for Medicare and Medicaid? Where is his plan?
But Obama wasn't subjected to specific, pointed questions like Paul Ryan was. The president gets away with a vague promises about taking a "balanced approach" and being "willing to do more" on deficit reduction.
One final point: Obama's insistence on a 2.5-to-1 ratio of spending cuts to tax hikes does not show that he's willing to go back to the "grand bargain" he and John Boehner entertained in 2011--that is a rejection of the "grand bargain." As Obama publicly acknowledged in a July 2011 news conference, the deal he and Boehner were entertaining involved $800 billion in revenue and $3.2 trillion in spending cuts--a ratio of 4-to-1, not 2.5-to-1. Obama said he couldn't "stomach" that deal.
"There were about $800 billion in revenue that were going to be available," Obama said at a White House press conference. "And what we said was when you’ve got a ratio of $4 in cuts for every $1 of revenue, that’s pretty hard to stomach."