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McKinstry: Does Mitt Romney's tax plan add up? Get out your abacus

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney answers a question

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney answers a question during the second presidential debate at Hofstra University. (Oct. 16, 2012) Credit: AP

Finally, taxes.

A little over 30 minutes into this clubber-style debate, President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney addressed their plans for taxes, which quite frankly have been a moving target during this campaign.

Neither candidate says he will raise taxes on the middle class, and much of their differences center on higher-income earners.

The president wants to return to Clinton-era rates and raise the top income tax rate from 35 percent to 39.6 percent on those earning $200,000 a year ($250,000 for couples).

Obama says his plan is simple: Help the middle class. The top-down model doesn’t work and top earners “must do more.” 

And Romney’s “math doesn’t add up,” he said.

“I know what it takes to balance budgets,” Romney responded. “I’ve done it my entire life.”

Romney wants to cut rates and grow the economy. He wants to cut taxes across the board by 20 percent, eliminate taxes on inheritance and get rid of capital gains and taxes on investment income for people making more than $200,000 a year.

So even if you have an abacus handy, that’s where the numbers are unclear – his projections for future economic growth just aren't known.

That’s where the president can poke holes in Romney's argument. And he’s not alone. The Tax Policy Center, an independent think tank, says it’s about $5 trillion short.