Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Was Obama Talking About a Cigarette Tax When He Said No Increase On "Any Of Your Taxes"?

Journalist Calvin Woodward believes President Obama has betrayed his promise not to raise taxes on families earning less than $250,000 because he recently signed legislation that increases the federal tax on cigarettes:

"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."

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.
Was Obama Talking About Cigarettes or Is Woodward Reading His Campaign Promises Too Broadly?
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.


Gerard said...

Waffling? Yes but without cost. This will be seen, as so many other coming things will be seen, as "for the greater good." So he'll get a pass. After all, he's doing important things such as delivering an iPod to the Queen of England.

Infidel753 said...

Well, technically he only said "I can make a firm pledge", not that he actually was making one, so.....:-)

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Gerard - I really do not understand who arranges for his gifts. The IPod thing is just bad. Not that I care about royalty, but there are terms of engagement....

Infidel -- oooh, nuance.

Anonymous said...

Having voted for Obama, I claim some basis for what I call the "Obamaburger." That is, no matter how you cook it, it's a big disappointment.

Parsing the meaning of his campaign statements is good exercise, but does not take away the most important aspect of one of his first acts as president.

He is transferring $33 billion from the least well off (statistics show most smokers are of lower income) to the middle class. This is not change I for one can believe in.

Maybe Geithner, or Paulson, or Summers. After all, Mr. Obama is proving himself no enemy of Wall Street.

I can't WAIT for Cap and Trade. That won't be a "tax" either. If all we can do as citizens is debate the semantics of a president, then we are toast.

Gerard said...

Traditionally, the White House Office of Protocol does the gifting, but perhaps they have not staffed that as yet. Seems that way. It's sorta like they sent Reggie out to get something....

The money is distressing but as for the civil liberties and civil rights letdowns, well he'll probably get around to that. A little economic rebound will be all he needs. We'll see stealth reparations back inside of 18 months.

Lots of other stuff too -- good or bad depending of whether your pitching or catching.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Hi, Anonymous. I was by no means saying that being forced to parse was a good thing, but language is imperfect, and I simply wanted to approach it with some objectivity. I am more disturbed by the civil liberties and civil rights letdowns -- as well as the transfer of wealth to Wall Street in the sum of 2 trillion dollars so far.

April 1, 2009 7:55 PM (edited)

USpace said...

It's all so hopenchangey.
The governments imposing these tobacco SIN taxes are actually committing racist acts since most smokers are lower income, and many of them are minorities. Obama committed a racist act with this tax increase. Completely regressive. Why don't they tax cigs $1,000 a carton?

They don't want all people to quit, just enough to toot their horns to justify their tyranny. They will still be able to rely on all those taxes continually coming in from the hardcore addicts, which at the increasingly obscene rates will easily make up the taxes lost from the small percentage of quitters.

Politicians don't want people to stop smoking. If they did they would tax them $100 per pack. But this would just increase the black market even more, and the state would get no money.
absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
raise taxes on the poor

tax cigs 200 percent
hurt poor smokers the most

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
create racist outcomes

raise some taxes on the poor
hurt minorities the most
All real freedom starts with freedom of speech. Without freedom of speech there can be no real freedom.
Philosophy of Liberty Cartoon

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