Two clarifications by President Obama's supporters in less than 24 hours is probably not what the White House was looking for, especially as top Republicans in Congress amplify their call for the renewal of the so-called Bush tax cuts, due to expire Jan. 1.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday that comments made by former president Bill Clinton and former administration economist Lawrence Summers about the Bush tax cuts are in lock-step with President Obama's position that they should not be extended for the wealthiest Americans.
Clinton said in a television interview Tuesday that the United States is in a recession and that all tax rates that are set to go up at the end of the year should be temporarily extended at current levels. While he said tax rates on the highest income earners should only be extended short-term, the comments appeared to show Clinton was open to a temporary freeze, something the administration opposes.
Later in the evening, a Clinton spokesman sent out a statement that the former president was simply saying a compromise between the White House and Congressional Republicans isn't likely. Carney reiterated during a press gaggle on Air Force One that the president and Clinton see eye to eye on the issue of taxes.
"[T]here is no daylight between President Clinton and President Obama when it comes to the need to extend tax cuts for middle class Americans and to not extend tax cuts for those making over $250,000," Carney said. "That's the president's position and that's the position that President Clinton has as well."
But the president's critics pounced on Clinton's comments, which they say show how he's out of step with his party on taxes. But Carney pointed to the clarification as proof they're on the same page. He was also firm about the president's opposition to any extension of Bush era tax rates for the top 2 percent of income earners.
"We absolutely should extend tax cuts for middle class," Carney said. "We should not extend, he will not extend, tax cuts for the highest income Americans."
Carney went on to question whether Republicans in Congress would "force a tax hike on 98 percent of tax-paying Americans because they're holding them hostage for the wealthiest Americans."
But in yet another off-message remark that appeared to undermine the president's position, Obama's former lead economist indicated Monday his support for temporarily extending the current tax rates at the end of the year.
"[W]e've got to make sure that we don't take gasoline out of the tank at the end of this year," said Lawrence Summers, former director of the National Economic Council.
Summers' office was quick to issue a statement clarifying his remarks.
"I fully support President Obama's position on tax cuts," Summers' statement read. "I have often said and continue to believe that promoting demand is the most critical short run priority for the American economy. Extending the high income tax cut does little for demand and poses substantial problems of fairness and fiscal prudence."
Taking into account "Bill Clinton's remarks and then Larry Summer's remarks, it's pretty obvious that the economy needs the certainty of the extension of the current tax rates for at least a year," McConnell said.