FORTUNE -- It's a lot of fun to be able to make what you think are clear, simple points about the difference between what people in power propose for the likes of you and me, and what they get for themselves.
But every once in a while, you discover that what seemed clear to you isn't necessarily clear to other people, including people you like, and whose work you generally approve of.
That's the situation I've run into with my recent column comparing the value of President Obama's post-Presidential retirement package with the limits his administration wants to place on the tax-deductibility of retirement savings. His package is worth about $6.6 million, almost double the $3.4 million maximum that the Treasury is proposing.
Fred Hiatt, editor of the Washington Post editorial page and a generally good guy, wrote that he likes my work and hopes I don't retire anytime soon, but that I was wrong to object to the limitation on tax-deductibility of retirement savings. "Obama is suggesting that at some point, retirement accounts, invented to encourage working people to set aside enough for their sunset years, no longer need a helping hand from taxpayers," Hiatt wrote.
But that's actually not what Obama is proposing. His proposed limit would include not only the value of individual retirement accounts and 401(k)s and such, but also the value of your pensions. That's a key distinction and one that many people have missed. (I would have missed it too, had I not gotten help from two good-hearted tax techies, both of whom disagree with me.)
First, combining pension values and personal account values poses a horrendous bookkeeping problem. You and the IRS would need to somehow figure out the value of any pension or pensions for which you and your spouse might be eligible and in which you might or might not be vested. Then, you have to combine that value (which isn't simple to determine) with the value of your individual retirement accounts.
Second, once you realize that the value of pensions is included in the proposed limit, it becomes perfectly legitimate to do what I did: value Obama's post-Presidential benefits and compare them to the limits that the Treasury is proposing.
If it's only fair, as my critics contend, to limit taxpayers' expense for retirement income being set aside for "the rich," it's vastly more fair to limit taxpayers' expense for Obama's retirement package. The 100% taxpayer subsidy for Obama's $6.6 million package is vastly more than the value of the tax deductions that workers and their employers get on the contributions that create $3.4 million worth of pension and retirement accounts. My critics should be lining up to limit Obama's pension, but I haven't seen that happening.
By the way, comparing the value of Obama's retirement benefits with the limits his administration was proposing wasn't fed to me by "the retirement lobby" or anyone else. It's totally my own idea.
I've been putting values on pensions for years. For example, in 2006, I used Vanguard's annuity calculator to place a value on the cost-of-living increases that Social Security beneficiaries get, and in 2009 I wrote a Fortune cover story comparing the value of my Social Security benefits with the value of the taxes my wife and I and our employers paid into the system. My Obama column is a continuation of the pattern.
Look, as I wrote before and will say again, it's offensive to me that the likes of Mitt Romney can game the system and end up with IRAs of eight (or maybe even nine) digits. But that problem is easily fixable, by restricting IRA investments to publicly available securities, as opposed to pieces of leveraged buyouts and other esoteric funds available only to a handful of people. Creating a whole new bureaucracy -- and a whole new income stream for accountants -- is a vast overreaction.
Finally, I'm not pleading my own case in opposing the limit. Even in the unlikely event that the Treasury's proposals become law, the value of my pensions and individual retirement accounts isn't close to $3.4 million. Would that it were.
The former presidential candidate is once again a private equity executive, but not at Bain Capital.
FORTUNE -- Ever since getting waxed by Barack Obama last November, Mitt Romney has maintained an office at his son Tagg's investment firm, Solamere Capital.
It's a lot like my Fortune office, in that both are in Boston and both are usually empty. The only difference is that Mitt has been spending his time on the MOREDan Primack - Mar 7, 2013 4:18 PM ET
Bain Capital's 2013 fundraising runs into 2012's election.
FORTUNE -- Mitt Romney is a forgotten man for most Americans, but he's still causing some headaches for Bain Capital.
The private equity firm Romney founded (and left more than a decade ago) is currently in the process of raising $8 billion for its eleventh flagship private equity fund, with plans to hold a first close in March. One problem however, has been that MOREDan Primack - Jan 25, 2013 1:52 PM ET
Private equity execs may be considering runs in Illinois and New York.
FORTUNE -- Mitt Romney may have failed to translate his business experience into a winning campaign message, but that may not stop other private equity investors from trying.
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Like three presidents before him, Mitt Romney told the voters what they wanted to hear about taxes. But this time they weren't buying it.
By John Cassidy, contributor
FORTUNE -- Poor Mitt Romney. From the GOP primaries, when members of his own party labeled him a "vulture capitalist," to the start of the campaign proper, when one of his top aides vouchsafed that he would follow an "Etch A Sketch" strategy, MORENov 15, 2012 5:00 AM ET
Tesla's Elon Musk reflects on his company's role in the presidential election.
FORTUNE -- During the second presidential debate, Mitt Romney raised Silicon Valley eyebrows by suggesting that electric car-maker Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA) was a "loser," akin to failed solar company Solyndra.
The comment was roundly criticized, particularly given that Tesla has been well-received by the public markets and says that it is on track to repay its Department of Energy MOREDan Primack - Nov 13, 2012 4:14 PM ET
If Republicans are looking for someone to blame, they should look inside their own tent.
FORTUNE -- In the aftermath of President Obama's victory over Mitt Romney, there has been a lot of attention paid to how the Obama campaign successfully defined Romney as an out-of-touch corporate raider. And most of the credit has gone to Obama campaign boss Jim Messina, who made a "grand bet" to saturate the summer airwaves MOREDan Primack - Nov 9, 2012 11:45 AM ET
The private equity firm founded by Mitt Romney says it refused "to be drawn into the give-and-take of the political season."
FORTUNE -- Bain Capital today sent a letter to investors, thanking them for supporting the firm while its founder, Mitt Romney, was running for President. Fortune has obtained a copy of the letter, which is posted below:View this document on Scribd Dan Primack - Nov 8, 2012 6:30 PM ET
Mitt Romney's candidacy put his former profession in the spotlight. KKR'S Ken Mehlman is trying to make sure the industry doesn't get burned.
FORTUNE -- Ken Mehlman isn't a private equity investor, but he has been one of the industry's most influential figures this year. As global head of public affairs for Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR), Mehlman has spearheaded a campaign to defend his firm and its peers from MOREDan Primack - Nov 8, 2012 5:00 AM ET
Senior executive with Bain & Co. reflects and looks ahead.
FORTUNE -- The long election season is now over, with President Obama appearing to have won reelection. Before the votes were counted, I spent some time on the phone with Phil Kleweno, head of the Washington, D.C. office for consulting firm Bain & Co., to get his thoughts on how the campaign affected his firm and on what his clients can MOREDan Primack - Nov 6, 2012 11:13 PM ET
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