Mixed Message From Administration on Taxes


At President Obama's daily economic briefing this morning, the president took the time to re-educate two of his administration's top economic officials on his campaign promise that he would not raise taxes on the middle class.

Over the weekend, when pressed on whether the president would raise taxes on middle-class Americans to bring down the record-breaking deficit, two of his closest economic advisers dodged the question.

"We're going to have to do what's necessary," Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said, when asked directly in an exclusive interview on ABC's "This Week."

"We will not get this economy back on track, recovery will not be strong and sustained, unless we convince the American people that we are going to have the will to bring these deficits down once recovery is firmly established," he said.

And when asked on CBS's "Face the Nation," National Economic Council director Lawrence Summers said, "There's a lot that could happen over time."

"It's never a good idea to absolutely rule things ... out no matter what," he said.

Yet today, the White House tried to quell concerns that the president would go back on his campaign pledge not to raise taxes on Americans making less than $250,000 a year.

VIDEO: Jake Tapper on tax increases

"The president was clear. He made a commitment in the campaign. That commitment stands," press secretary Robert Gibbs said. "I want to just state again clearly here that the president has made a very clear commitment to not raise taxes on middle-class families."

Gibbs said that Geithner and Summers "allowed themselves to get into a little bit of a hypothetical back-and-forth."

"The president was clear during the campaign about his commitment on not raising taxes on middle-class families," Gibbs said. "And I don't think any economist would believe that in the environment that we're in, raising taxes on middle-class families would make any sense. And the president agrees."

Gibbs said there was a discussion about Geithner's and Summers' comments at this morning's economic daily briefing, attended by him, Obama, Geithner, Summers, Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and White House Communications Director Anita Dunn.

"We talked about it as an issue, but we didn't -- it wasn't sort of an -- this wasn't a 'school-is-in' type of thing," Gibbs said.

During the presidential campaign, Obama had repeatedly pledged that he would cut taxes for 95 percent of all working families.

But with an ambitious agenda that includes government spending on economic recovery and health care reform, the president's goal of deficit reduction could make that pledge impossible to keep, say some economists.

Former deputy treasury secretary under President Clinton Roger Altman says new taxes on the middle class are inevitable to reduce the deficit -- and if the deficit is not reduced, he cautioned, high interest rates will stifle economic growth.

"The size of the deficit and the impact of the national debt on that deficit is unstainable no matter how you define it, and is going to have to be confronted," Altman said, in an interview with ABC News.

"The size of the problem is so large, that it will only be able to be solved through a combination of spending restraints and new revenues, and of course, new revenues means taxes," he said.

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