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Presidential debate 101: Does Romney’s tax math add up?

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But by referring to the "top 5 percent," Romney may have changed his definition of the middle class. If he now means that his relief for taxpayers in the middle ends at the top 5 percent, that means in effect that the middle class ends somewhere below $200,000 in adjusted gross income.

In September, by contrast, Romney said, "Middle income is $200,000 to $250,000 and less."

Roughly the top 3 percent of US households have incomes of $200,000 and higher. Romney's other 2 percent would come from the top end of the next group tracked by the Internal Revenue Service, the roughly 10 percent of tax filers with adjusted gross incomes of between $100,000 and $200,000.

So after Tuesday night, where are we in the debate over Romney's tax plan?

Here are some important parts of the answer:

Skeptics of Romney's tax math still abound. Among them is Mr. Obama. Here's an excerpt of what the president said Tuesday night:

"Look, the cost of lowering rates for everybody across the board, 20 percent, along with what he also wants to do in terms of eliminating the estate tax, along with what he wants to do in terms of corporates, changes in the tax code, it costs about $5 trillion.”

Obama continued, “Governor Romney then also wants to spend $2 trillion on additional military programs, even though the military's not asking for them. That's $7 trillion. He also wants to continue the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. That's another trillion dollars: That's $8 trillion....  $8 trillion before we even get to the deficit we already have."

According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, Obama is correct about the $5 trillion figure, which refers to a 10-year period. But the other $3 trillion may be unfair to lump in. After all, continuation of the Bush tax cuts is often assumed to occur, when budget experts create "base lines" for forecasting.

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