"I can make a firm pledge," [Obama] said in Dover, N.H., on Sept. 12. "Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes."Was Obama Talking About Cigarettes or Is Woodward Reading His Campaign Promises Too Broadly?
He repeatedly vowed "you will not see any of your taxes increase one single dime."
Now in office, Obama, who stopped smoking but has admitted he slips now and then, signed a law raising the tobacco tax nearly 62 cents on a pack of cigarettes, to $1.01. Other tobacco products saw similarly steep increases.
This blog has been one of the few liberal websites that consistently and unabashedly scrutinizes and contrasts Obama's "talk" and "actions" (see, e.g., Change = Same?). Despite my highly skeptical view of Obama and all other politicians, I believe that Woodward might be stretching things here, because the President seems to have been referring to income taxes -- not to any conceivable federal tax.
For example, in the campaign speech that Woodward cites, Obama sets $250,000 as an income ceiling below which he would not seek to impose new taxes. He also refers to "payroll" and "capital gains" taxes, which relate to income and asset appreciation. A cigarette tax seems materially distinct from an income tax. The ability of taxpayer to avoid the tax (yet still subsist) and the equal applicability of the tax to all income earners come immediately to mind.
Woodward himself acknowledges that Obama almost always referred to income taxes during the campaign: "To be sure, Obama's tax promises in last year's campaign were most often made in the context of income taxes." Woodward apparently believes, however, that regardless of his actual words Obama spoke broadly and that his pledge not to increase taxes covers all taxes, not just income taxes. Although I believe Woodward's analysis reaches for a conclusion, if anything, Obama has only betrayed a smaller class of smokers who earn less than $250,000.
On the Other Hand, Consider This
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, which runs the webpage FactCheck.Org, also contends that Obama's "no new taxes" pledge usually referred to income taxes, but that a "reasonable" person could construe some of his comments as applying to other taxes:
Jamieson noted GOP ads that claimed Obama would raise taxes on electricity and home heating oil. "They rebutted both with the $250,000 claim," she said of the Obama campaign, "so they did extend the rebuttal beyond income and payroll."I have not viewed Obama's rebuttals to McCain's campaign advertisements, but Jamieson and FactCheck.Org have great reputations for bipartisanship and honesty (although some of my conservative readers beg to differ). Perhaps Obama went too far to defend himself against McCain during the primaries. But Obama's rejection of "any" new taxes makes him vulnerable to Woodward's claim that he is waffling on his pledge.