The White House brushed off questions about President Obama's new, “agnostic” stance on middle class tax increases, signaling a potential reversal on a key campaign promise.
“The president is just not going to get in the game of prejudging the outcome of a commission that, one hasn't been set up and hasn't met,” said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.
Obama is hoping for Republican support on a bipartisan commission to draft revenue generators and spending cuts.
But after repeatedly pledging not to raise taxes on families making less than $250,000 a year, Obama told Bloomberg he is now “agnostic” on such a plan.
“The whole point of it is to make sure that all ideas are on the table,” Obama said. “So what I want to do is to be completely agnostic, in terms of solutions.”
Asked how Obama's new agnosticism squares with his previous opposition to tax increases for the middle class, Gibbs said Obama “is not a member of this commission.”
However, in the next 10 days or so, Obama is expected to create the panel and name its members.
Many Republicans, who originally supported the idea when it was first floated in Congress, have soured on the commission since Obama embraced it, calling it a stalking horse for tax increases.
“The president's fiscal commission proposal is nothing more than a partisan Washington exercise rigged to impose massive tax increases and pass the buck on the tough choices we need to be making right now,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.
In creating the commission, the president faces three immediate problems. Originally billed as a means for building consensus, the commission is effectively being defined by its critics as a way for the administration to dodge fiscal responsibility.
The president also faces the hard truth of a record-high, $1.6 trillion federal deficit this year, amid pressure from his own party not to cut spending on popular programs in a congressional election cycle.
But politicians are uncommonly superstitious about raising taxes after promising not to. Former President George H.W. Bush famously lost his campaign for a second term after breaking his “read my lips, no new taxes” pledge.
Obama has been no less emphatic, telling a joint session of Congress and the nation last year that “If your family earns less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes increased a single dime. I repeat: not one single dime.”
The statement echoed a frequent pledge from the campaign trail, where Obama vowed to resist a middle class tax increase: “Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes,” he told a New Hampshire audience in 2008.
Among other items under consideration in the current federal budget cycle is raising the rate on capital gains tax.