The Obama administration has raised some taxes and cut many others. They should admit that.
"I didn't raise taxes once," Barack Obama told Bill O'Reilly on Sunday. "I lowered taxes over the last two years." That's, well, half true. The Obama administration has raised taxes. The excise tax on high-value health-care insurance, for instance, is a tax. So is the tax on tanning salons, and the increase in cigarette taxes. These taxes -- or at least tax levels -- didn't exist before Obama signed them into law. They will raise taxes on certain people under certain circumstances. They will get bigger as the years tick by. PolitiFact rated this as "false," and rightly so.
On the other hand, Obama has lowered taxes repeatedly. He extended the Bush tax cuts. He passed a payroll tax holiday. He passed the Making Work Pay tax cut. Overall, he's been big on tax cuts and very reluctant to consider higher income or payroll taxes as a way to fund programs or close the deficit. As PolitiFact says, "most Americans have seen lower taxes."
But I'm not surprised to see Obama playing word games with taxes. Since the 2008 campaign, Obama and his team have shown themselves to be terrified of the tax issue. They swore never to raise taxes on anyone making less than $250,000 -- which tied their hands when deficits exploded. They initially fought the individual mandate, in large part because, like most taxes, it polls poorly. After they embraced it, they worked to call it a "penalty" rather than a "tax," which has contributed to the provision's legal difficulties. They argued for letting the Bush tax cuts expire for the rich, but they were never willing to say that the tax rates should reset to Clinton-era levels across the system, which was a tacit admission that most of the tax rates Bush put into place were -- and are -- appropriate.
In general, they've just not been willing to try to push the national conversation over taxes to a more rational place. Rather than disputing the GOP's contention that cutting taxes is almost always and everywhere a good thing, they've quietly agreed and attempted to defuse the issue by grabbing the mantle of tax cuts for themselves. That might be good politics, but in the long run, we're going to need to raise taxes in this country, and that's going to require some leader or group of leaders to talk about taxes with a bit more courage and honesty. So far, the Obama administration has left that job to someone else.
Photo credit: PolitiFact
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