This weekend on CNN Robert Gibbs, a surrogate for President Obama, said Obama was 100 percent committed to letting the Bush tax cuts expire for those making above $250,000 a year. Given Obama’s track record on his tax related campaign promises, I have a tough time believing his team on this issue, and I’m likely not alone. When it comes to keeping his tax promises, Obama’s record falls somewhere between poor and abysmal.
Most important is his comically bad record on identical promises he previously made about the Bush tax cuts. Obama spend years campaigning on his promise to let the Bush tax cuts expire for those making over $250,000. Yet for his first two years in office Obama completely failed to achieve this goal. Obama could have easily ended this tax break using reconciliation when he still had very large Democratic majorities in Congress. Not only did Obama fail to do that, but his team made no serious effort during those months when they stood the best chance of succeeding.
After basically ignoring the promise for two years, Obama was forced to deal with it when all the Bush tax cuts were scheduled to expire. At that critical moment, instead of sticking to his promise, Obama completely folded. Not only did Obama give in to Republican demands to extend them all, but in his public statements afterwards he seemed to imply he would have to fold if the GOP used the same tactics again.
His past failure on this exact same promise should be enough to destroy Obama’s credibility for the second go around, but this is not the only big campaign tax promise on which Obama completely reversed himself.
During the 2008 campaign, Obama hammered John McCain relentlessly on taxing health insurance, saying McCain would tax employer provided health insurance. Yet when Obama took office that is effectively what he did. The Affordable Care Act contains a provision that will tax insurance companies offering plans over a set value. While this legalistic workaround may allow Obama to claim he technically kept this promise, he broke it in both spirit and practice. Regardless if you put the tax on the seller or the buyer in the transaction, the impact is basically same.
Unlike the Bush tax cut extension, though, Obama can’t claim the GOP “forced” him to break this tax promise. Obama actively worked to break this one on his own.
Finally there is the tax penalty associated with individual mandate. Following the Supreme Court declaring the mandate’s fee can be regarded a tax, Republicans are pointing to it as proof Obama broke his promise by raising taxes on people in the middle class. The Obama team is offering a decent defense against this attack on the semantic grounds about what a “tax” is. But even if you don’t buy this GOP tax argument, the mandate’s penalty tax is still a real strike against Obama’s credibility. Obama campaigned vigorously against the mandate, making it a key distinction between him and Hillary Clinton. This didn’t stop Obama from breaking this promise against a mandate once in office.
Now that we are back in campaign mode Obama has a new tax promise, which is basically a recycled version of a 2008 campaign promise Obama completely failed to keep. Given the man’s track record on this topic, though, there is simply no reason to lend any credibility to this do-over promise.