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By Eric Stirgus August 29, 2012

Stephanie Cutter said Mitt Romney's platform won't protect the mortgage interest tax deduction for middle-class families

The Obama campaign, to no one’s surprise, is highly critical of the Republican Party’s platform.

In one email, Obama’s team offered several reasons for their disapproval, such as the Republicans will turn Medicare into a voucher program, they’ll ban marriage equality and reject civil unions of all kinds.

But one claim about the GOP agenda and of its standard bearer, Mitt Romney, caught us off guard, particularly since it is so divergent from a Republican Party tenet.

Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter wrote in an email that Romney "won't protect the mortgage interest deduction for middle-class families if Romney enacts his tax plan, even though it helps more than 30 million middle-class families."

Republicans generally support tax cuts. Could Cutter be right about this one?

We contacted Obama campaign officials, who did not respond immediately respond to a request for comment.

Generally, home mortgage interest is any interest you pay on a loan on your home or a second home. The loan may be a mortgage to buy your home, a second mortgage, a line of credit or a home equity loan. In most cases, you can deduct all of your home mortgage interest, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

The mortgage interest deduction is a popular policy with millions of American homeowners, particularly middle-income earners. Nearly 50 percent of Americans who take advantage of the mortgage interest deduction make annual incomes between $100,000 and $200,000, according to the Tax Policy Center. As president, Ronald Reagan famously promised in a 1984 speech to the National Association of Realtors that he would "preserve the part of the American dream which the home mortgage interest deduction symbolizes."

Some argue the deduction is the federal government’s way of paying Americans to buy a house.

Over the years, there have been complaints that some wealthy Americans have abused the system, such as claiming deductions for yachts by claiming them as second homes. The Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation estimated in a 2010 report that the mortgage interest deduction will cost the federal government about $98.5 billion this fiscal year.

Romney’s idea is that tax rates could be lowered if the tax code was scrubbed of loopholes and exemptions. That way, the government would get the same amount of tax revenue coming in. But Romney won’t say which loopholes and exemptions he would like to target.

Democrats have argued that Romney’s tax plans would require him to make changes to the federal tax code, such as eliminating the mortgage interest deduction. The Tax Policy Center released an analysis of Romney’s tax plans that concluded Romney would raise taxes on middle-income Americans if he eliminated the mortgage interest deduction and ended other policies, such as the charitable deduction.

The Wall Street Journal reported in April that Romney said at a fundraiser that he wants to stop allowing deductions on second homes. The Romney campaign later said the candidate was floating ideas and that it was not a firm proposal.

Several news outlets reported earlier this month that the GOP was not going to support the mortgage interest deduction in its party platform. There was a battle over the deduction between the real estate industry, which wanted to keep it in the platform, and some conservative activists, who desired a simpler tax code, according to those reports. The Wall Street Journal later reported there was a compromise.

The Republican Party platform lays out its position in a section called "Protecting The Taxpayers: ‘No More Too Big to Fail.’ " It says at the top of Page 25 that "we strongly support tax reform; in the event we do not achieve this, we must preserve the mortgage interest deduction."

That wording does not explicitly back up Cutter's point. But it leaves open the possibility that eliminating the deduction could possibly be included in tax reform. Still, it's a stretch to conclude from that wording that Romney would eliminate the deduction.

Our ruling

Cutter said, "Mitt Romney's platform … won't protect the mortgage interest deduction for middle-class families." Romney wants to limit some tax deductions in exchange for rate cuts, but he hasn’t said which deductions he wants to end. The platform's general wording leaves open the possibility of changes to the deduction, but specifically expresses support for it. We rate Cutter’s claim as Mostly False.

Our Sources

Email from Obama campaign, Aug. 29, 2012.

Email from Romney campaign official Allie Brandenburger, Aug. 29, 2012.

The Atlanta Constitution, "Reagan won't try to abolish home mortgage tax break," May 11, 1984.

The Atlantic, "Why the Mortgage Interest Deduction is Terrible," July 17, 2012.

Internal Revenue Service guidelines on mortgage interest deductions.

Joint Committee on Taxation report on tax expenditures, Dec. 21, 2010.

Republican Party 2012 platform.

Tax Policy Center report on Mitt Romney’s tax proposal, Aug. 1, 2012.

National Journal, "GOP Platform Contains No Endorsement of Mortgage Deduction," Aug. 21, 2012.

Wall Street Journal, "Mitt Romney Specifies Deductions He’d Cut," April 15, 2012.

Wall Street Journal, "GOP in Compromise over Mortgage-Interest Deduction," Aug. 21, 2012.

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Stephanie Cutter said Mitt Romney's platform won't protect the mortgage interest tax deduction for middle-class families

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