(CNSNews.com) - White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Monday that President Barack Obama is still “clearly committed” to not raising taxes on anyone making less than $250,000 per year.
The clarification became necessary after two senior administration officials were perceived over the weekend to have floated the idea that the president might raise taxes on the middle class.
But despite his repeated insistence at Monday’s press briefing that the president had made a “commitment” to not raise taxes on those earning under $250,000, Gibbs would not state if this meant the president had entirely closed the door to a middle class tax hike.
Gibbs seemed prepared in the briefing to respond to comments about possible tax increases that were made on national television Sunday by top administration economic officials. As it turned out, he fielded numerous questions on the topic.
“The president made a commitment on the campaign. He’s clear about that commitment. I don’t know how much more clear about the commitment I can be,” Gibbs said toward the end of the briefing, having already provided the same answer to numerous variations on the question of whether President Obama has in fact categorically ruled out raising taxes on the middle class.
“I want to just state again clearly here that the President has made a very clear commitment to not raise taxes on middle-class families, period,” Gibbs said.
On Sunday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner appeared on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”
“The president has said that taxes won’t go up for any Americans earning under $250,000,” Stephanopoulos said to him. “But it doesn't appear he’s going to be able to keep that promise if you’re going to bring the deficits down.”
Geithner did not refute Stephanopoulos’ point.
“George, again we can't make these judgments yet about exactly what it's going to take and how we’re going to get there,” said Geithner. “But the very important thing, and no one is going to care about this more than the president of the United States, is for people to understand that we do not have a choice as a country. That if we want an economy that’s going to grow in the future, people have to understand we have to bring those deficits down. And it’s going to be difficult, hard for us to do. And the path to that is through health care reform. But that's necessary but not sufficient. We're going to do some other things as well.”
When Stephanopoulos followed up, “So revenues are on the table as well?”
“Again, we’re not at the point yet where we’re going to make a judgment about what it’s going to take,” Geithner said.
Lawrence Summers, director of Obama’s National Economic Council, appeares Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” Host Bob Schieffer asked him if tax increases were possible.
“There is a lot that can happen over time,” said Summers. “It is never a good idea to absolutely rule things out no matter what.”
Gibbs rejected suggestions from reporters that Geithner’s and Summers’ statements indicated that the administration was floating a trial balloon for hiking taxes on the middle class. Instead, Gibbs insisted the television exchanges were a “hypothetical back and forth.”
“So did Geithner and Summers go off script or were they sort of testing the temperature out there?” a reporter asked.
“I don't know,” said Gibbs. “I know the President has been clear about his commitment on it.”
“So there is no--there's no real scenario there, as the administration sees it, where middle-class taxpayers might be hit with a hike? There's no scenario right now,” a reporter asked.
“The President has been clear, very clear,” said Gibbs.
“Could I make that even a little more precise?” asked a reporter. “The President, as you well know, is --not just middle class, but he's been very precise about it: no family-- ”
Gibbs interrupted, “Let me be precise: The President's clear commitment is not to raise taxes on those making less than $250,000 a year.”
“So any implication anybody drew from Geithner and Summers yesterday to the contrary is flatly wrong?” asked a reporter.
“I think the President has been clear,” said Gibbs. “I think you heard him reiterate it not that long ago right outside this room in the Rose Garden.”
Later a reporter asked, “The door is closed? They did not open the door at all?
Gibbs again 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.”
When a reporter asked if there is a timeline on the commitment, citing Gibbs previous reference to the current economic climate, Gibbs responded, “I'm going to say this. I'm going to deal with this and I'll do this one more time. The President was clear; he made a commitment in the campaign; that commitment stands.
After a following, “And he will never raise taxes on--,” Gibbs preempted with the answer, “That commitment stands.”
At that point, another reporter jumped in to ask, “But commitment doesn't mean he'll do it, Robert. I mean, I can be committed to losing--”
Gibbs became slightly testy, “What else are you going ask then? You asked if the President is going to make his commitment. I'm saying he’s made a commitment.”
“But that's not completely shutting the door,” the reporter said. “You can say I'm committed to doing something, but you may not do it.”
To this, Gibbs responded, “Fine. Ignore everything I've said in the last 45 minutes."