Ryan skims over tax plan details and insists ‘the polls are close’

BOSTON -- As voters begin to make their final decisions about the two presidential candidates, one repeated criticism of Mitt Romney is that he hasn’t offered enough specifics about his plans to boost economic growth — particularly how he would pay for his tax cuts and cut the nation’s rising deficit.

Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace tried to ferret some details out of Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, about the cost of the Republican team’s plan to slash tax rates by 20% — a proposal Ryan argued would increase take-home pay for middle-class Americans and create 7 million jobs. But the Wisconsin congressman insisted in the pre-taped interview that while the president had distorted the Republicans’ tax plans, he didn’t have enough time to walk through how they’d pay for them.

Noting that Ryan is the “master of the budget” as House Budget chairman, Wallace asked Ryan to refute the Obama campaign’s argument that cutting tax rates by 20% for all Americans would cost $5 trillion.

“Not in the least bit true,” Ryan responded, insisting the plan was “revenue neutral.”

“Look, this just goes to show if you torture statistics enough, they’ll confess to what you want them to confess to,” Ryan said.

PHOTOS: Paul Ryan’s past

Wallace unsuccessfully pressed Ryan four times for an answer on how much the tax cuts would cost — a figure he wanted before they went on to discuss what deductions Romney might eliminate to pay for the tax breaks.

Because both parties have “junked up the tax code” with “giveaways and special interest tax breaks,” Ryan said the Romney team would look to limit deductions for higher income Americans, but he didn’t get more specific.

“You haven’t given me the math,” Wallace pressed.

“It would take me too long to go through all of the math,” Ryan replied. “But let me say it this way. You can lower tax rates by 20% across the board by closing loopholes and still have preferences for the middle class for things like charitable deductions, for home purchases, for healthcare.”

Ryan noted that higher income people have access to a “disproportionate amount” of loopholes.

“When you close a tax write-off or a tax shelter for a higher-income person, more of their income is subject to taxation so we can lower tax rates. That’s where we begin,” he said.

But leading Republican analysts have said that the Romney plan would require eliminating all or most deductions and credits for households with income over $100,000. That would include wiping out such popular tax provisions as the deductions for mortgage interest, charitable contributions and state and local taxes. For taxpayers earning more than $200,000, the lowered tax rate would offset the loss of deductions, but not so for most of those making less. For purposes of his tax plan, Romney has said that middle class income ranges up to $250,000.

In Romney’s upcoming debate with President Obama in Denver, Ryan said, the Republican nominee’s goal will be to clarify the choice facing Americans: what the next eight years might look like under a Romney administrationversus an Obama administration.

DEBATE QUIZ: Who said it?

Pointing to the “ugly, stagnant economy,” Ryan said Obama’s economic policies have fostered dependency. “We can stick with the failed policies of the last [four] years for the next four years – or we can get a brighter future,” Ryan told Wallace in an interview that was taped after his rally in Derry, N.H., on Saturday.

“Stagnation versus growth, dependency versus opportunity and upward mobility. That’s the classic choice, the clear difference that we’re offering.”

For the most part, Ryan refused to engage with Wallace about whether the Republican ticket is losing at this point—following slippage for Romney in a series of swing state and national polls. But when asked about the mistakes that the campaign has made, he acknowledged that Romney’s statement in a secretly taped fundraiser about the 47% of Americans who don’t pay federal income taxes had created a problem for the campaign. That remark has clearly taken a toll on Romney’s efforts to persuade undecided voters to support him.

“Mitt acknowledges himself that was an inarticulate way of describing how we’re worried that in a stagnant Obama economy more people have become dependent on government because they have no economic opportunity,” Ryan told Wallace. “It was an inarticulate way to describe what we’re trying to do to create prosperity and upward mobility, and reduce dependency by getting people off welfare, back to work.”

When asked why the Republican ticket is trailing in the polls given the nation’s high unemployment and voters’ economic anxiety, Ryan argued that he and Romney are facing “an incumbent president with incredible resources.” He also dismissed criticism from some conservatives who have complained that Ryan hasn’t shown the same kind of passion since Romney chose him as his running mate.

“Mitt Romney has never once asked me to temper anything down. He said, go out there and sell this,” Ryan said.

When asked whether Romney needed a clear victory at Wednesday’sdebate with Obama in Denver, Ryan said the polls are close and that he didn’t think one event would “make or break this campaign.”

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