President Obama pledged during his 2008 campaign that middle-class families would not see a tax increase of any kind.
But critics repeatedly have accused him of violating that pledge and with the Bush tax cuts set to expire unless Congress acts before Jan. 1, a look back at the administration's statements shows a gradual softening in their tax rhetoric. The president in February went so far as to say he's "agnostic" on the issue in the context of closing the deficit. The White House, though, is still pressing for a continuation of the Bush tax cuts for the middle class.
The following is a review of the evolution of the administration's tax platform:
Sept. 12, 2008: Speaking before a New Hampshire crowd, Obama promised to shield middle-class families from a tax increase.
"And I can make a firm pledge. Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase," he said. "Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes."
June 28, 2009: In an interview on ABC's "This Week," White House senior adviser David Axelrod was asked whether Obama would veto any health care bill with a tax increase for those making less than $250,000 a year. Axelrod said Obama's plan would keep with his tax promise but he would not directly answer the question, which concerned a Senate proposal to cap deductions.
"One of the problems we've had in this town is that people draw lines in the sand and they stop talking to each other. And you don't get anything done," he said. "(Obama) is very cognizant of protecting people -- middle-class people, hard-working people who are trying to get along in a very difficult economy. And he will continue to represent them in these talks. But they're also dealing with punishing health care costs, and that's something that we have to deal with."
June 29, 2009: White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs declined to clarify Axelrod's comments when asked repeatedly about them at the press briefing.
"The good news is we're making significant progress, and all those people are still sitting at the table. We haven't drawn a lot of bright lines," Gibbs said. "We're going to allow that process to continue ... in order to make progress."
Aug. 2, 2009: In an interview on "This Week," Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner was asked about Obama's tax pledge and whether he'd be able to keep it in light of the need to reduce the deficit.
"We can't make these judgments yet about what exactly it's going to take and we're going to get there," Geithner said. "I think what the country needs to do is understand we're going to have to do what it takes, we're going to do what's necessary."
Aug. 2, 2009: In an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," White House economic adviser Larry Summers also left the door open on the tax question.
"There is a lot that can happen over time," Summers said."It is never a good idea to absolutely rule things out, no matter what."
Aug. 3, 2009: In damage control mode, Gibbs restated and stood by Obama's tax pledge when asked about Summers' and Geithner's comments.
"The president's clear commitment is not to raise taxes on those making less than $250,000 a year," Gibbs 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."
Sept. 20, 2009: Obama got in a spat with host George Stephanopoulos during an interview on "This Week." Stephanopoulos suggested that the proposed fines against those who don't purchase health insurance as required by the new health care package amount to a tax on the middle class. Obama disputed that point.
"It's still a tax increase," Stephanopoulos said.
"No. That's not true," said Obama. "For us to say that you've got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase. ... You can't just make up that language and decide that that's called a tax increase."
Stephanopoulos then read aloud the dictionary definition of "tax" to the president of the United States.
Obama responded: "George, the fact that you looked up Merriam's Dictionary, the definition of tax increase, indicates to me that you're stretching a little bit right now."
"But you reject that it's a tax increase?" the host asked.
"I absolutely reject that notion," Obama said.
Nov. 1, 2009: In another "This Week" interview, senior adviser Valerie Jarrett was asked whether Obama would veto any health care package that violates the tax pledge, in reference to one proposal that would tax high-value insurance plans.
"Let's hold off prejudging what it's going to do. But the president has been clear, he does not want to impose a tax on the middle class," she said.
Pressed again, Jarrett said: "What I'm saying is that he is confident that a bill that's going to be passed is going to be consistent with his parameters."
Feb. 9, 2010: Obama said in an interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek that he could be "agnostic" on raising middle-class taxes. He was referring to a newly formed commission tasked with examining ways to bring down the deficit.
"The whole point of it is to make sure that all ideas are on the table," Obama said. "So what I want to do is to be completely agnostic, in terms of solutions."
He added: "What I can't do is to set the thing up where a whole bunch of things are off the table. ... Some would say we can't look at entitlements. There are going to be some that say we can't look at taxes, and pretty soon, you just can't solve the problem."
July 27, 2010: Gibbs said at his daily press briefing that the issue of the Bush tax cuts came up during a meeting with congressional leaders. He repeated Obama's pledge.
"The president said that, as he had committed to in the campaign, he would not allow the tax cuts for the middle class to expire," Gibbs said. He explained that Obama is not arguing for extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy but wants the middle-class cuts to be "preserved."
"I believe the president believes that raising taxes on the middle class during this economic time would not make a lot of economic sense," he said. "And I think if you go back to the campaign, the president made that pledge not simply to make that pledge, but to make that pledge because for years and years and years we'd watched jobs being shed, wages either flat or declining, and that now is neither the time nor the place to raise taxes on them."
Sept. 8, 2010: As the debate over extending the Bush tax cuts heated up, Obama used an economic speech in Ohio to accuse Republicans of holding the middle class "hostage" by demanding an extension of all the Bush tax cuts.
"Now, I believe we ought to make the tax cuts for the middle class permanent," Obama said. "But the Republican leader of the House doesn't want to stop there. Make no mistake -- He and his party believe we should also give a permanent tax cut to the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. ... We should not hold middle-class tax cuts hostage any longer. We are ready, this week, if they want, to give tax cuts to every American making $250,000 or less."
Sept. 9, 2010: Obama was asked during an ABC News interview whether he would support a two-year extension of all the Bush tax cuts -- representing a compromise with Republicans. Without answering directly, the president suggested that would not be a "smart thing" for the economy. Asked again, Obama said the reason the tax cut package hasn't passed is because "we haven't seen compromise from the other side."
The president then repeatedly declined to answer the question of whether he would veto such a short-term extension of all tax cuts.
Sept. 30, 2010: Congress adjourned without a vote on the Bush tax cuts. The same day, Gibbs said at his daily press briefing that, even though dozens of House Democrats pushed for an across-the-board extension, the reason the House never took up a tax cut bill was "because the Republicans said they weren't going to do it."
Check in Thursday to read more in FoxNews.com's tax cuts series. Next up: President Obama's pledges on the campaign trail and changing middle-class tax rates.