WASHINGTON POST//MAX EHRENFREUND
The tax plan Chris Christie proposed this week feels familiar.
In a speech Tuesday, the Republican governor of New Jersey argued that reforming the tax code is vital to economic growth. He proposed lowering tax rates across the board. To make up for the fact that the Treasury would be taking in less money in taxes, he'd eliminate special exemptions and deductions, which would also simplify the system.
In other words, Christie is standing on a very similar platform that former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney did just three short years ago.
Christie has not said that he will run for the GOP nomination next year, but he did give the speech in New Hampshire, a state with an early primary.
He called for collapsing the personal income tax brackets into just three, all of them with lower rates and with a top marginal rate of 28 percent. By getting rid of tax breaks, he said he'd make sure that these adjustments didn't expand the deficit.
There are a few breaks Christie wants to keep -- in particular, the deductions for charitable donations and for interest paid on a mortgage for a taxpayer's first home. Instead, he floated a cap on the total exemptions and deductions that any taxpayer can use to lower her bill, an idea that Romney also suggested in a debate.
Like Christie, Romney was looking for ways to raise more money, as his plan also cut marginal rates for all taxpayers, reducing them by 20 percent.
As the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center concluded at the time, it was "not mathematically possible" for Romney to achieve his goal of lowering tax rates without forcing the government to borrow more -- unless he was planning on effectively raising taxes for the poor and middle class, while reducing them for the country's wealthiest citizens.
Many of the breaks that Romney suggested eliminating help taxpayers with more modest incomes. Wealthier people have larger houses, so they're able to deduct much more in mortgage interest -- but only up to a certain point. As Josh Barro explained for Bloomberg at the time, taxpayers with incomes over $200,000 earned 26 percent of all income in 2009, but received only 12 percent of all exemptions and deductions.
The Tax Policy Center's analysis of Romney's plan assumed that reducing tax rates would stimulate economic growth, but the growth wasn't enough to make up the difference.
That mathematical reality contrasted with the rhetoric of Christie's speech. He said that President Obama's policies had widened the gap between rich and poor. A different approach would create faster growth, Christie said, helping the middle class.
"Why has the income of middle-class Americans not grown for 15 years?" the governor asked. "Until we answer that question and fix that problem, the anxiety and unhappiness that weigh on middle-class America will not be resolved."
Christie's plan is less dramatic than those proposed by other contenders for the GOP presidential nomination. The wealthy would pay far less under the flat tax proposed by Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, and the national sales tax advocated by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
One strategy for Christie to compete with them would be to convince Republicans that his platform will be more palatable to moderate and persuadable voters in the general election. Yet resurrecting a plan from an unsuccessful campaign three years ago may not answer Republicans' questions about Christie's chances of success.