President Obama: “I haven’t raised taxes.”
On the CBS program “60 Minutes” aired on Sept. 23, President Obama said “I haven’t raised taxes” as part of his defense against Mitt Romney’s attacks on his economic policies. Justifying the statement appears difficult.
Mr. Obama’s statement occurred during the following exchange with CBS interviewer Steve Kroft:
KROFT: (Romney says) you’re crushing economic freedom with taxes, regulations, and high-cost health care.
OBAMA: Yeah. Well, it’s a lot of rhetoric, but there aren’t a lot of facts supporting it. Taxes are lower on families than they’ve been probably in the last fifty years. So I haven’t raised taxes. I’ve cut taxes for middle-class families by an average of thirty-six hundred dollars for a typical family. When it comes to regulations, I’ve issued fewer regulations than my predecessor, George Bush, did during that same period in office. So it’s kind of hard to argue that we’ve overregulated. Now, I don’t make any apologies for putting in place regulations to make sure banks don’t make reckless bets and then expect taxpayers to bail them out. I don’t make any apologies for regulating insurance companies, so that they can’t drop a family’s coverage, just when somebody in their family needs it most. And, you know, the problem that Governor Romney has is that he seems to only have one note: tax cuts for the wealthy and rolling back regulations as a recipe for success. Well, we tried that vigorously between 2001 and 2008 and it didn’t work out so well.
Mr. Obama lowered income taxes temporarily with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. But he also raised taxes with a cigarette tax hike as well as other taxes described below as part of the Affordable Care Act.
If Mr. Obama meant by his words that he has not raised taxes at all, then his statement was false.
If Mr. Obama meant that he had helped legislate a net decrease in taxes then he failed to address the reporter’s question. Suppose a 10-mile stretch of toll road charges 1 cent per tenth of a mile, collected every tenth of a mile. Suppose an identical 10-mile stretch of a toll road charges $1.25 but collected at the start of the span. Most would prefer the latter more expensive option because of the inconvenience of making ten stops per mile. So the net cost of the toll doesn’t address changes in the degree of economic freedom.
Analyzing the Rhetoric
Most likely Mr. Obama tried to make the point that his tax policy has not reduced economic freedom. On the one hand, his tax policies have not greatly increased the federal tax burden on the average family. That counts in favor of his likely point.
On the other hand, targeted tax hikes like a cigarette tax, a tax on tanning beds or even a tax on persons failing to obtain health insurance have a clear coercive impact on a citizen’s economic choices. Doesn’t Romney have a point?
Mr. Obama’s response seems calculated to obscure the truth in Romney’s criticism. Taxes diminish freedom? Didn’t really raise taxes.
Obama’s strategy involved downplaying Romney’s point by repeating related talking points. It’s a very common tactic of politicians. Mr. Obama did sign a number of tax increases into law. The increases raise substantial revenue, so the “haven’t raised taxes” line is misleading and perhaps deliberately misleading.
“Transcript of Obama on ’60 Minutes’” Fox News. FOX News Network, 24 Sept. 2012. Web. 2 Oct. 2012
“The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009: Information Center.” The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009: Information Center. Internal Revenue Service, n.d. Web. 2 Oct. 2012.
“Affordable Care Act Tax Provisions.” Affordable Care Act Tax Provisions. Internal Revenue Service, n.d. Web. 2 Oct. 2012.
Grabell, Michael, and Christopher Weaver. “The Stimulus Plan: The Tax Cuts.” ProPublica. ProPublica, 13 Feb. 2009. Web. 16 Oct. 2012.
“Economic Stimulus: What Does the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Do for Individuals?” What Does the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Do for Individuals? Tax Policy Center, n.d. Web. 2 Oct. 2012.