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October 12, 2011 10:05 AM Revisiting the ‘9-9-9’ nonsense

By Steve Benen

Last night’s debate in New Hampshire was supposed to be about Mitt Romney. It was instead about Herman Cain’s “9-9-9” plan, which the former pizza company executive claims will revitalize the economy, end partisan bickering in Washington, balance the budget, and generally lead to an American utopia.

Ideally, we could do what the political world has done for months: generally ignore this foolish gimmick. But when a policy idea — I use the phrase loosely — becomes the central focus of a debate for presidential candidates, it’s probably worth taking the time to look at it in a little more detail.

What Cain calls his “9-9-9” economic plan is basically his approach to tax policy — he envisions a system with a 9% income tax, a 9% corporate tax, and a 9% sales tax. Chris Cillizza praised it this morning for its “beautiful, political simplicity.”

The bad news is, political simplicity notwithstanding, the plan doesn’t make any sense. Bruce Bartlett, a Republican economist and veteran of the Reagan and H.W. Bush administrations, published an analysis of the plan yesterday, explaining that it would, as a practical matter, raise taxes on the poor considerably, make it more expensive for businesses to hire workers, and increase the deficit.

At a minimum, the Cain plan is a distributional monstrosity. The poor would pay more while the rich would have their taxes cut, with no guarantee that economic growth will increase and good reason to believe that the budget deficit will increase.

Even allowing for the poorly thought through promises routinely made on the campaign trail, Mr. Cain’s tax plan stands out as exceptionally ill conceived.

Michael Linden, the Center for American Progress’ director of tax and budget policy, ran the numbers on Cain’s plan and came to the same conclusion.

And while we’re at it, the “9-9-9” proposal, at least in its current form, also suffers from constitutional problems.

Wait, it gets better. Last night, Cain said he relied on “well-recognized economists that helped me to develop this 9-9-9 plan,” but he won’t tell us who they are. He said the plan has been “well studied,” but he won’t say by whom or what they found, specifically. Cain added that his campaign had an “independent firm … dynamically score” his plan, but he won’t share the results of the analysis.

This isn’t a policy; it’s a joke.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • internet tough guy on October 12, 2011 10:12 AM:

    Cain has a secret plan to end the debt in Vietnam.

  • T2 on October 12, 2011 10:14 AM:

    Cain is a joke. When Bachmann and Santorum are making fun of your proposals, you have a big problem.
    Funny part is that 999 is the opposite of what TeaParty wants (they are too stupid to know it), and could someone please remind Santorum that Nancy Pelosi is no longer the Speaker of the House. It would take a GOP majority to pass 999, led by Cantor and Boner.

  • Snowbird42 on October 12, 2011 10:15 AM:

    Are any of the people on stage Presidential material? Romney seems to have all his answers memorized.

  • DAY on October 12, 2011 10:20 AM:

    9-9-9. All those numbers make my brain hurt!
    My "10% plan" is simple in its simplicity:
    Simply deport ten percent (in "numbers" that is 10%) of the population. No more unemployment. no more deadbeats collecting money for nothing. Of course, you will then have to pay for your chicks. . .

  • c u n d gulag on October 12, 2011 10:22 AM:

    9-9-9!

    Nein-Nein-Nein!

    And I heard that Bachmann (who else?), yesterday pointed out that 9-9-9 was 6-6-6 upside-down.

    I sometimes wonder if the Repubican powers that be didn't handpicke theses clowns to run against him so that Romney would look positively presidential in comparison?

  • Sean Scallon on October 12, 2011 10:27 AM:

    Oh but to the Chris Cizzla's of the world Cain's plan is political brilliance because he doesn't have to explain what it does or what it means. It still allows him to call the horse race.

  • leo from Chicago on October 12, 2011 10:27 AM:

    Remember, this '9-9-9' stuff is coming from the same people who want -- or at least say they want -- to cut taxes and lower the deficit. It's the fiscal equivalent of eating a dozen Twinkies to lose weight.

    I'd say '9-9-9' is the new '6-6-6'.

  • Neil Andrew on October 12, 2011 10:27 AM:

    Methinks Herman has been playing a little bit too much Sim City.

  • LaughingOldVet on October 12, 2011 10:30 AM:

    ...Chris Cillizza praised it this morning for its "beautiful, political simplicity."

    If anyone from the corporate pundidiocy would recognize simpletonicity, it would be Sleezilla!

    However, Cain's plan is consistent with republican economic knowledge of how to fix our economy.

    Every good repuknican understands that the only problems with our economy are:
    - any regulation of big business is bad
    - the wealthy do not have enough wealth
    - the middle class is too large
    - the poor do not pay enough taxes

  • Rich on October 12, 2011 10:32 AM:

    this is apparently the brainchild of some obscure investment consultant in private practice in Cleveland. I'm guessing that any random investment consulanta could come up with something similarly atrractive in an intuitive way but also similarly naive and destructive in practice.

  • tokorode on October 12, 2011 10:35 AM:

    I wish someone would just once point out that the socialist nightmare espoused by Obama is better known as "the way we've lived for the past 50 years". Do opponents really feel like they've been raised in Marxist bondage? That they've suffered from a dearth of personal freedom? Will the MSM ever acknowledge that Obama wants to make minor tweaks to this system, while Republicans want to radically overhaul it?

  • tanstaafl on October 12, 2011 10:39 AM:

    Bachmann is still stone-cold crazy but her response to Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan is the first time I have ever laughed with her rather than at her.

    I even thought she was reasonably subtle about it, "When you turn it upside down, the devil's in the details."

  • William Lenneman on October 12, 2011 10:43 AM:

    I think this probably originates from Mr Cains Pizza days... 9 toppings on 9 pizzas for 9 dollars

  • T2 on October 12, 2011 10:48 AM:

    thanks Rich...a Cleveland businessman huh? I'd like to see a further expose of the origin of this plan - it's clear Cain did not devise this on his own.

  • martin on October 12, 2011 10:59 AM:

    Give him credit. At least it is a budget plan with numbers in it, which is better than the Republicans usually do;>

    Mr Captcha is feeling all numbery: coefficients usastl

  • Blue Girl on October 12, 2011 11:01 AM:

    Herman Cain? 9-9-9?

    Nein, nein, nein.

  • berttheclock on October 12, 2011 11:09 AM:

    Geez, Blue Girl, and I thought I had coined "Just say Nein".

    However, the interesting part of this is how it would affect local governments. In California, with their post Prop 13 draconian super majority needed to raise state revenues, local governments had to raise sales taxes. Now, Cain wants to add a Euro Value Added Tax to local taxes, as well. Have the TPers really thought any of this through? Oh Herm, you are soooo Euro.

  • Anonymous on October 12, 2011 11:17 AM:

    "the former pizza company executive"

    Do you really need to be that snarky? Isn't that what the bad guys do?

    I would imagine he'd have to have a passing familiarity with real estate, marketing, business banking and accounting, managing a workforce and commodity foodstuffs. It's kind of refreshing that someone has the balls to aspire to political office who isn't an attorney or career politican. And no, I'm not a Cain supporter.

  • Jim G on October 12, 2011 11:47 AM:

    Cillizza is right that the 999 plan is arithmetically simple, and politically simple. But, the latter is mainly because it looks like a gift from heaven.

    That's because it is not even close to being revenue neutral. According to a quick analysis by Pat Garofalo at Think Progress (http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2011/10/05/336649/cain-999-analysis-deficits/) this plan would generate around half the revenues of the current system (which already leads to high deficits).

    As a result, it looks like a great giant tax cut to many people. And don't people love to have their taxes cut.

    A truly revenue neutral plan along these lines would be called 18/18/18 plan... and while it's still arithmetically simple, that sure wouldn't be politically simple.

  • June on October 12, 2011 12:43 PM:

    Why is referring to a former pizza company executive as a former pizza company executive supposed to be insulting? That's the "vote for me" experience Cain himself is campaigning on.

  • digitusmedius on October 12, 2011 12:58 PM:

    I think it's Mencken I'm paraphrasing here: for every problem there is a solution that is simple, elegant and wrong.

  • Kathryn on October 12, 2011 1:00 PM:

    @ tokorode why indeed, good points, I too wonder why no one is called to document the horrible socialist changes that have occurred for them in the past three years. Also why does Herm get away with not answering important questions on his "advisors" and when challenged with factual information on his 999 plan from Bloomberg can say they're wrong.......the end.

    Lasr night a commentator on Ed Shulrtz Show suggested that Cain might be onRomney's short list for V P which never crossed my mind. it would appease the Tea Party, might effect the evangelical African-American vote. Any opinions?

  • gelfling545 on October 12, 2011 1:20 PM:

    This plan is so symptomatic of the problems that arise when someone who has never worked in government wants to "run the country like a business" which, as they don't seem to have noticed, it isn't. They end up constructing plans that don't work for conditions that don't exist but look good to them on paper because the balance sheet looks good.

  • Ray Waldren on October 12, 2011 1:47 PM:

    "Last night a commentator on Ed Shulrtz Show suggested that Cain might be onRomney's short list for V P which never crossed my mind. it would appease the Tea Party, might effect the evangelical African-American vote. Any opinions?"

    Question is what would get more votes in the right places -- a Romney-Cain ticket or a Cain-Romney ticket? Are you more adverse to voting for a Mormon who can't trust you with the truth of his convictions or an African American who tells you exactly where he stands?

  • Mama74 on October 13, 2011 2:29 PM:

    Cain/Romney may make it to the White House but not the other way aound. Mccain fatal mistake....wrong VP

  • Shirl on October 13, 2011 5:52 PM:

    This man, Cain, must truly be a descendant of the Cain who killed his brother in the bible. He is a disgrace to the human race. His ideas would nearly abolish middle class America, and leave this country in the same condition that many third world countries are in today and have been for centuries. A country of a few very rich, and masses of generations of the very poor. Is this what we want?

  • Jerry on October 14, 2011 12:03 AM:

    The so called 9-9-9 plan is sheer nonsense. My daughter plays a video game called Sim City. In it is the 999 plan in the form that Cain is proposing. He stole it From Sim City! ! Incredible that he can get away with that. For him to rise so far in the polls shows us how badly we need leaders with credibility. We have a big big problem.

  • HELP! on October 15, 2011 7:24 PM:

    Think of the 999 plan this way. I live in NJ 7% sales tax. I buy a 30,000.00 car and pay 2100 sales tax. Now, if the 999 plan happens I would have to pay an additional 2800 to Uncle Sam?

    Get the psyco ward & jacket for all who think its a good idea!

  • CQ on October 15, 2011 10:21 PM:

    Look at Canada's trip through the 90s. We had lost our triple A credit rating, we had debt and deficit. Conservatives introduced a 7% national sales tax and Liberals brought in a minimum tax and new surtaxes on top of our personal income taxes. Add small stuff like payroll deductions increased on the sly siphoned to double down on our debt repayments. Then a devalued currency (when our dollar dropped to below 70 cents U.S.).
    And in Ontario the provincial sales tax is another 8%, it is 7% for B.C. Both are now recently blended with the GST so that they are newly applied against Gas prices amongst other individual things.

  • Allan, 70y.o. vet in S.Calif. on October 16, 2011 6:04 AM:

    There are millions of disabled, SS retired who get $16 a
    month in FOOD STAMPS, and an SS check well under $1000. I'm a vet, served my nation, and drive 50 miles each way to see a VA doctor. I eat a lot of soda crackers, and 99 cent chili and soup. My car has 260,000 miles. I have ZERO family, no kids...Brilliant Mr. Cain thinks I should pay nearly $2000 annually out of my SS check. Though I've usually been a GOP voter, I hope the draft dodger UBER-CONSERVATIVES lose their HOMES, SAVINGS, and HEALTH, if they are so cheap-jack, to squash the poor half of the SS oldesters! Don't lump me with ILLEGALS or deadbeats who make criminal money under the table.I'll send back $100 to pay my fair share... never $2000 out of my paltry 11K! Cain is 6 kinds of a fool!

  • CQ on October 16, 2011 10:54 AM:

    re: Allan (6:04 am)
    In Canada, our federal tax code uses a basic exemption for everyone earning their first $9,500 - roughly. It usually increases a little each year for inflation. And there are sales tax rebate cheques mailed out (or direct deposit to a bank) quarterly based upon low income levels.

  • Allan on October 17, 2011 5:17 PM:

    re:CQ
    My dad's family were Canadian pioneers!
    To put a fine point on my my problem with Cain and other uber-conservatives, is that deserving SS retirees like me are presently on the edge. If we lose another, say, $2000 in new taxes, we risk actual death, as "homelessness" to an old person with serious heart issues, you'd kill me in less than a week! I would barely be able to eat, and only be able to take the bus to visit a VA clinic 50 miles away. I'd pay $100 a year, as a token sacrifice, but $2000 would dust me off. We vets still know how to provide military action
    (professionally). If an armed corp of resistance fighters were needed, the poor mistreated vets, could
    run the neo-facistas out of power. Most of us can still
    hit a target, or what-ever...we don't forget those skills or lose our nerve after 65! The upper ranks of the middle class seem to be a smug draft-dodging lot!
    Viva those who served. Down with those who would starve
    the nation's real patriots!

  • Allan on October 21, 2011 9:35 PM:

    I have honestly read about 500 comments about 9'9'9' on a whole lot of sites. People have a lot of "blind spots" on the issue, especially related to the extremely poor retirees. These are 4 of the misconceptions: (one) The very poor get lots of Food stamps: I'm 70, SS retired and disabled, they give me $16 a month. You would literally starve, if that was all you had. (second) Very poor all get big tax credits as negative income! Only some, millions like me get no rebate.and my check is $974.(third) Poor don't pay sales tax, gas tax, utility taxes, parking meters & tickets, road use fees, car registration (if they are so lucky) and most dental costs. (all this along with rent comes out of the $974) (fourth) all of the poor were life-long deadbeats. I'm a vet, have been CEO of both a still existing airline, a popular TV channel, and have met payroll for at least 150 employees, over the years. Unfortunately I was wiped out by a heart condition at 59, and now reduced to below the poverty level. No kids, family, so I only have SS and the VA medical system, or it would be the streets! A $2000 annual tax bill would probably make me homeless, or in a shelter. Cain lacks the insight to see the many millions who can't pay the poor's $2000 new tax package, and who would suffer in the extreme or be killed off by a policy so very regressive! One thing that might help partially, would be to add one more 9-9-9 feature...That would be an exemption on first $999
    each month helping the SS retirees! That way we'd lose a
    leg, but not the arm, or visa-versa!

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