On February 4, 2009, three years ago yesterday, President Obama first broke his central campaign promise: a “firm pledge” that no American making less than $250,000 per year would see “any form of tax increase.” The promise was made repeatedly on the campaign trail by both Obama and running mate Joe Biden, who assured voters in a vice-presidential debate: “No one making less than $250,000 under Barack Obama’s plan will see one single penny of their tax raised, whether it’s their capital gains tax, their income tax, investment tax, any tax.”
“You will not see any of your taxes raised one single dime,” said Obama.
Yet on the sixteenth day of his presidency, Obama signed into law the first of at least eight pledge-breaking tax increases: a 156 percent increase in the federal excise tax on tobacco. With the median income of smokers being just under $36,000, the 62 cents-per-pack tax hike was a clear violation of Obama’s promise.
On the day the tax hike took effect — April 1, 2009 — the Associated Press rightly took the president to task in a national story titled “Promises, Promises, up in Smoke.” When the AP asked the White House how the tax hike squared with Obama’s “any form of tax increase” pledge, the administration trotted out a second-string spokesman named Reid Cherlin to do the dirty work. Cherlin brazenly tried to claim the promise applied only 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.”
The AP didn’t buy it and neither did national fact-checkers, not that their affirmation was needed in such an obvious case.
The White House was just getting warmed up on the tax-hike front. As the expected cost of the draft Obamacare bill skyrocketed, the bill’s advocates searched high and low for sources of tax revenue. On April 15, 2009, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs was asked during a press briefing if Obama’s tax promise applied to the healthcare bill. Gibbs replied: “The statement didn’t come with caveats.”
But less than four months later, on August 2, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner appeared on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” and refused several opportunities to rule out a pledge-breaking tax increase as part of the healthcare bill: “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.” The same day on “Meet the Press,” White House economic adviser Larry Summers also refused to rule out a tax hike, saying, “It is never a good idea to absolutely rule things out, no matter what.”
Got that straight? Questioned the following day, August 3, Gibbs said, “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.”
But in the end, President Obama would again shatter his “firm pledge” by signing Obamacare into law on March 23, 2010. The final product contained 21 tax increases, at least seven of which hit Americans making less than $250,000 per year.
In addition to the tax on individuals not purchasing government-approved health insurance, millions of Americans of all income levels are no longer allowed to use pre-tax flexible savings accounts and health savings accounts to purchase over-the-counter drugs. Another provision imposes an annual federal government cap of $2,500 in pre-tax flex account contributions. Those facing the highest out-of-pocket medical expenses will also be subject to a new federal “haircut” in the form of an increased threshold for the medical itemized deduction. And let’s not forget about the 10 percent indoor tanning tax, slipped into Obamacare at the last minute. Indeed, if it moves, tax it.
As he intensifies his class-warfare campaign to raise taxes on, ahem, only “the most fortunate,” President Obama has some explaining to do. It would be wise for the remaining GOP presidential candidates to start pointing this out.
John Kartch is director of communications at Americans for Tax Reform.