President Obama on Thursday refused to commit himself to vetoing legislation that would temporarily extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, even as he and his administration have steadfastly argued that such an extension would waste hundreds of billions of dollars.
In an interview with ABC News's George Stephanopoulos, the president was asked on four occasions whether his commitment to letting the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire was strong enough to veto even a "short term extension." On each occasion, Obama demurred.
The exchange, for what it's worth, was flagged by a Republican congressional aide who noted how little Democrats would likely feel emboldened by the remarks. It does, indeed, seem increasingly likely that Congress punts on the issue, passing a temporary extension of all Bush tax cuts with the goal of revisiting their expiration in two years. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) has said he would be willing to discuss this compromise. And the lack of an overt veto threat from Obama suggests that the White House isn't willing to rule it out either.
Watch the interview or scroll down for a transcript:
Here is the relevant transcript from Obama's interview:
STEPHANOPOULOS: How deep is your commitment to this fight? Are you saying that if Congress passes a short term extension of all the tax cuts, you're gonna veto it?
OBAMA: George, here's what ... I'm saying is that we've got a fundamental choice about this economy. You can't have Republicans running on fiscal discipline that we're gonna reduce our deficit, that the debt's out of control, and then borrow tens, hundreds of billions of dollars to give tax cuts to people who don't need them. (crosstalk)
STEPHANOPOULOS: --everyone else, though. You don't propose a way to pay for those.
OBAMA: Look, the reason is because those folks, as I said over the last decade, at the time when the Republicans were in charge, didn't see a wage increase. Did not see their incomes go up at a time when their costs for health care, for college tuition, for everything else was going up. So, they are just barely keeping their heads above water. The one group that actually saw their incomes increase substantially when ... Republicans were in charge, were the top two percent of Americans. The folks who saw the biggest jump were the top one tenth of one percent of Americans.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Does that mean you will veto an extension of tax cuts to the wealthy?
OBAMA: What I am saying is that if we are going to add to our deficit by $35 billion, $95 billion, $100 billion, $700 billion, if that's the Republican agenda, then I've got a whole bunch of better ways to spend that money.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you're not saying you're gonna veto it.
OBAMA: I, there are a whole bunch better ways to spend the money.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How come you don't want to say veto?
OBAMA: There are a whole bunch better ways to spend the money.