Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain's much discussed 9-9-9 tax plan just got a major facelift after intensifying criticism that it would shift the tax burden to the least fortunate Americans.
In a Detroit speech Friday, the former Godfather's Pizza CEO created another numbers scheme for those "at or below poverty level."
"Your plan isn't 9-9-9," Cain said, addressing low-income voters. "It is 9-0-9."
"Say amen y'all," said Cain, also a Baptist minister. "9-0-9."
Translation? Cain said that Americans who now earn so little that they don't pay taxes would not have to pay under his plan, either. He also proposed "opportunity zones" in economically hard-hit areas, where businesses that qualify could get tax breaks. It's more complicated than 9-9-9, and the campaign provides some basic details here.
Cain's proposal marks a dramatic change from his keep-it-simple strategy of touting the 9-9-9 plan as a solution to the nation's economic and unemployment problems. The plan advocates scrapping the current tax code in favor of a 9 percent federal sales tax, a 9 percent federal income tax, and a 9 percent federal corporate tax.
A recently-released review of the 9-9-9 tax plan by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center found that most Americans would see their taxes increase under Cain's plan, and the hardest hit would be low- and middle-income households.
Cain's surge to the top of national GOP presidential polls has prompted not only increased scrutiny of the 9-9-9 plan, but also put him on the defensive during a debate in Nevada Tuesday when all of his Republican opponents took aim at the scheme. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the GOP candidate who has been trading frontrunner status with Cain, hit the plan particularly hard for imposing a new tax on many who now don't pay any.
Here's part of the Cain-Romney exchange Tuesday during the debate, broadcast on CNN:
ROMNEY: Herman, are you saying that the state sales tax will also go away?
CAIN: No, that's an apple.
CAIN: We're replacing a bunch of oranges.
So, then Governor Perry was right that --
CAIN: No, he wasn't. He was mixing apples and oranges.
ROMNEY: Well, but will the people in Nevada not have to pay Nevada sales tax and in addition pay the 9 percent tax?
CAIN: Governor Romney, you're doing the same thing that they're doing. You're mixing apples and oranges. You're going to pay --
ROMNEY: I'm --
CAIN: No, no, no, no. You're going to pay the state sales tax, no matter what.
CAIN: Whether you throw out the existing code and you put in our plan, you're still going to pay that. That's apples and oranges.
ROMNEY: Fine. And I'm going to be getting a bushel basket that has apples and oranges in it because I've got to pay both taxes, and the people in Nevada don't want to pay both taxes.
Cain has been struggling to maintain a consistent message since the front-runner spotlight began to shine on him. During an interview this week on CNN, he said he opposes abortion, but believes that "it's not the government's role or anybody else's role to make that decision." Facing criticism from anti-abortion advocates, Cain followed up the following day with this: "As to my political policy view on abortion, I am 100 percent pro-life. End of story."
He also backtracked this week on comments he made suggesting that he could support a prisoner exchange involving terrorism suspects being held by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Cain said his "misspoke" on the issue, and as president would not support such a trade.