May 14, 2008 -- The centrist Democratic group instrumental to former President Clinton's rise to the White House in 1992 has some advice for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.: get to the center, starting with taxes.
"In the fall, our nominee will have to do what John Kerry had to do in the 2004 debates, which is turn to the camera and say, 'No, I will not raise taxes on people making less than $200,000,'" said Bruce Reed, the president of the Democratic Leadership Council, in an interview with ABC News.
During ABC News' April 16 debate in Philadelphia, asked whether he would take an absolute "read my lips" pledge not to increase taxes of any kind for anyone earning less than $200,000 a year, Obama seemed to agree.
"Well, I not only have pledged not to raise their taxes, I've been the first candidate in this race to specifically say I would cut their taxes," Obama said.
Reed, however, does not think Obama's answer in Philadelphia qualified as a pledge to protect those earning less than $200,000 because the Democratic front-runner has left open the possibility of raising Social Security taxes for those making as little as $97,000 per year.
Asked about the DLC's advice, Obama spokesman Bill Burton said in an e-mail message, "We've said countless times we'd consider a donut," referring to the idea of exempting income between $97,000 and $200,000 from facing the 12.4 percent Social Security tax.
Reed, however, does not think Obama's promise to consider a donut goes far enough. A chief domestic policy adviser under the Clinton administration, Reed thinks that in order to get through the general election, Obama should make it absolutely clear that higher Social Security taxes will not start below $200,000 per year.
"It's exceedingly unrealistic to expect that you could raise taxes on people under $200,000 anyway, so why not be honest about the circumstances and fight for responsible restoration of tax rates on the wealthy," said Reed. "That will be an extremely difficult battle, but we might win if we have a supportive enough Congress."
Beyond ruling out higher taxes on those making less than $200,000, Reed wants Obama to get specific on his proposed spending cuts.
"We need to show as much enthusiasm for controlling spending as we do for proposing it," said Reed.
Reed also thinks Obama should consider making national service a condition for receiving federal financial aid to attend college.
"In a campaign against a war hero, we have to do everything we can to close the patriotism gap," said Reed. "But more importantly, Sept. 11 left Americans with a desire to do more than we have been challenged to do."
"Democrats win when we embrace our inner maverick," he added, "and come up short when we don't."