The clear winner of last night’s Republican presidential debate on the economy was Herman Cain’s 999 plan, which received more attention and coverage than any candidate or economic proposal submitted by the GOP field.
In response to sharp questioning from the moderators and his fellow contenders about the effects of his plan, which would raise taxes on common food items to pay for a massive corporate tax cut, Cain seemed to have settled on a simple solution: the poor should just eat used food and buy used goods.
Asked to “explain why under your plan all Americans should be paying more for milk, for a loaf of bread, and beer?” Cain noted that under his plan “there is no tax on used goods.” Cain repeated this “used goods” suggestion in two interviews after the debate, insisting that his plan is not regressive. Instead, he explained, the new tax structure would give families the “flexibility to decide on how much they want to spend it on new goods [and] how much they want to spend it on used goods.”
In a Bloomberg interview, Cain claimed that under 999, “prices don’t go up” because “consumers have the option to stretch their dollar because of buying used goods instead of new.” Cain failed to explain how this solution would apply to food, which families might have difficulty buying “used” unless they rummage through garbage. Clearly he considers relying almost entirely on secondhand items for everyday life a perfectly reasonable idea for poor families.
As a former CEO of a pizza company, Cain should know that a hike in taxes on food products will be a heavy blow for the millions of families who are already having a hard time making ends meet. Thirty-one states charge no sales tax on food, and others tax food at a lower rate than other goods or provide rebates for lower-income families to offset the tax. Only two states, Mississippi and Alabama, charge full sales tax on food.
As ThinkProgress has explained, 999 would slash taxes on the wealthy, drive up deficits to their highest levels since World War II, and force low-income Americans to pay nine times their current tax rate.