Politics

White House silent on whether Obama tax pledge still stands

Jon Ward Contributor

A growing number of Democratic lawmakers have begun to make noise in recent days about raising taxes on the middle class and discarding President Obama’s promise not to increase the tax burden on those making $250,000 a year or less.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is the most prominent. But another member of the House Democratic leadership, Rep. Xavier Becerra of California, also indicated that a middle class tax increase might be inevitable, as have three senior Democratic senators: Dianne Feinstein of California, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, and Tom Harkin of Iowa.

Meanwhile, the only noise from the White House on the matter is a loud silence. Asked to comment on whether the president’s pledge not to raise taxes on the middle class still stands, the White House declined.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tried Thursday to tamp down speculation that her party might be planning to let tax cuts instituted by former President George W. Bush expire for the middle class, explaining why she was in favor of keeping them.

“They do inject demand into the economy, and they do grow the economy, and they end up reducing the deficit,” said Pelosi, California Democrat, at her weekly press conference. “So I put my money on middle-income tax cuts.”

“But that doesn’t mean that everything shouldn’t be subject to review, and I salute Mr. Hoyer for his statement,” she said.

Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland, broached the subject of the middle class tax cuts on Tuesday while discussing Obama’s plans to let the cuts expire for those making more than $250,000, and the nation’s growing deficit and debt.

“As the House and Senate debate what to do with the expiring Bush tax cuts in the coming weeks, we need to have a serious discussion about their implications for our fiscal outlook, including whether we can afford to permanently extend them before we have a real plan for long-term deficit reduction,” Hoyer said.

That same day, the three senators all questioned the $250,000 threshold.

“You could go lower, too — why not $200,000? With the debt and deficit we have, you can’t make promises to people,” Feinstein said.

Dorgan, who is up for reelection this fall, said: “I don’t think there’s any magic in the number, whether it’s $250,000, $200,000 or $225,000.”

“I’m not hard and fast on $250,000,” Harkin said. “Quite frankly, it could be somewhat lower than that.”

Finally, Becerra went on Fox News Wednesday and was asked by Neil Cavuto about Hoyer’s comments.

“Extraordinary times require extraordinary actions by our government to make sure we get our fiscal house in order. While the president lived up to his word to cut tax cuts for the middle class and 95% of America benefited from tax cuts last year, we’re looking at everything, nothing is off the table,” Becerra said.

“No one wants to increase taxes on the middle class,” he said. “We also don’t want to cut programs for education and healthcare.”

REP. XAVIER BECERRA DISCUSSING MIDDLE CLASS TAX HIKES ON CAVUTO

Republicans pounced.

“The Majority Leader in the House, a Democrat, has announced that the president’s promise is null and void – and replaced it with a promise that struggling middle class families will face a tax hike at the worst possible time,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House minority leader John Boehner, Ohio Republican.

The president submitted a budget in February that allowed tax breaks passed in 2001 to expire for those earning more than $250,000, but extended the breaks for those under that mark.

But now that Democratic leaders have decided not to pass a comprehensive budget — instead passing a series of separate spending bills in a piecemeal fashion — they will have to pass legislation in order to extend any of the 2001 tax cuts.

Obama promised to end the tax breaks for high-end earners during his 2009 address before a joint session of congress, but in the same breath repeated his pledge not to raise taxes on those under the $250,000 mark.

“Let me perfectly clear, because I know you’ll hear the same old claims that rolling back these tax breaks means a massive tax increase on the American people: if your family earns less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes increased a single dime,” Obama said.

“I repeat: not one single dime.”

Email Jon Ward and follow him on Twitter