President Barack Obama’s central campaign promise was a “firm pledge” not to raise “any form” of taxes on families making less than $250,000 per year. Rather than immediately and unequivocally re-affirming the tax pledge during interviews, this timeline of statements by Obama and White House staff and advisors raises questions understandably troubling to taxpayers:
Obama's $250,000 Tax Pledge Timeline
The Promise -- Sept. 12, 2008: Obama makes a “firm pledge” not to raise “any form” of taxes on those making less than $250,000 per year:
“I can make a firm pledge. Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.” (Dover, NH) [Transcript] [Video clip]
April 1, 2009: After Obama broke his “firm pledge” when he signed into law a steep hike in the federal excise tax on tobacco, White House spokesman Reid H. Cherlin attempts to claim that the Obama pledge only applies to “income or payroll taxes”:
“The president's position throughout the campaign was that he would not raise income or payroll taxes on families making less than $250,000, and that's a promise he has kept.” (Associated Press interview) [Permalink]
April 15, 2009: During a White House press briefing, when challenged as to how Obama’s tax pledge squares with his tax hike on tobacco, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs replies:
“People make a decision to smoke.” [Transcript]
April 15, 2009: Moments later, when asked if Obama’s tax pledge applies “to the health care bill”, Gibbs replies:
“The statement didn’t come with caveats.” (White House Briefing) [Transcript]
June 28, 2009: When challenged on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos as to whether Obama’s tax pledge applies to healthcare reform, White House Advisor David Axelrod refuses three times to affirm the pledge and replies:
“One of the problems we've had in this town is that people draw lines in the sand and they stop talking to each other. And you don't get anything done.” [Transcript]
June 29, 2009: Questioned about David Axelrod’s comments made the day before, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs refuses seven opportunities to affirm Obama’s tax pledge, saying only:
“We're going to let the process work its way through. All right?” [Transcript]
August 2, 2009 Appearing on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner refuses to rule out a pledge-breaking tax hike after being given several opportunities to do so:
“I think what the country needs to do is understand we're going to have to do what it takes, we're going to do what's necessary.” [Transcript]
August 2, 2009: On NBC’s Meet the Press, National Economic Council Director Larry Summers also refuses to rule out a tax hike:
“It is never a good idea to absolutely rule things out, no matter what.” [Permalink]
August 3, 2009: Questioned about the previous day’s comments by Geithner and Summers, White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs reiterates Obama’s tax pledge:
“I am reiterating the President's clear commitment in the clearest terms possible, that he's not raising taxes on those who make less than $250,000 a year.”[Transcript]
Sept. 20, 2009: On ABC’s This Week, hosted by George Stephanopoulos, Obama claims that the Baucus plan’s excise tax on the uninsured would not break his tax pledge, denying that it is in fact a tax, even after Stephanopoulos reads him the dictionary definition:
STEPHANOPOULOS: I -- I don't think I'm making it up. Merriam Webster's Dictionary: Tax -- "a charge, usually of money, imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes."
OBAMA: George, the fact that you looked up Merriam's Dictionary, the definition of tax increase, indicates to me that you're stretching a little bit right now. Otherwise, you wouldn't have gone to the dictionary to check on the definition. I mean what...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, no, but...
OBAMA: ...what you're saying is...
STEPHANOPOULOS: I wanted to check for myself. But your critics say it is a tax increase.
OBAMA: My critics say everything is a tax increase. My critics say that I'm taking over every sector of the economy. You know that.
Look, we can have a legitimate debate about whether or not we're going to have an individual mandate or not, but...
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you reject that it's a tax increase?
OBAMA: I absolutely reject that notion. [Transcript]
Nov. 1, 2009: On ABC’s This Week, hosted by George Stephanopoulos, White House Senior Counsel Valerie Jarrett refuses to unequivocally affirm Obama’s tax pledge:
STEPHANOPOULOS: “So are you saying that the president will not sign this proposal if it does indeed raise taxes on the middle class?”
VALERIE JARRETT: “What I'm saying to you, George, is, let's let the process go forward…”
STEPHANOPOULOS: “So he will not -- bottom line, he will not violate that commitment, is what you're saying?”
VALERIE JARRETT: “What I'm saying is that he is confident that a bill that's going to be passed is going to be consistent with his parameters, yes.” [Transcript]