Biden muffs Obama’s tax plans during debate

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Vice President Joseph R. Biden on Thursday seemed to open the door to adjusting President Obama’s tax increases to only apply to those making $1 million or more a year — a much higher threshold than the $250,000 level they had pushed previously.

But the Obama campaign said Friday that Mr. Biden was only “providing an illustration” of how the tax increase would be divided out and that the president sticks by his bigger tax-increase plan.

The exchange came in the middle of Thursday’s vice presidential debate, when moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC asked Mr. Biden who would pay more in taxes and who would pay less under the president’s plan.

“The middle class will pay less, and people making a million dollars or more will begin to contribute slightly more,” the vice president replied. “We’re arguing that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy should be allowed to expire. Of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, 800 billion dollars of that goes to people making a minimum of a million dollars.”

The debate about tax increases has raged throughout the Democratic party for several years, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi earlier this year floating a $1 million tax increase level.

That level had never won the backing of the White House until this week, when Mr. Biden’s remarks seemed to embrace her view.

But on Friday an Obama campaign official said the vice president was not changing the official position.

Biden was describing the same policy that has long been his and the president’s — that the Bush tax cuts should be continued for the middle class and expire for those making more than $250,000,” the official said. “When he mentioned millionaires, he was providing an illustration of how much of the high-income tax cuts go to those making $1 million or more. If you take a look at the transcript and numbers below, it’s clear he was referring to a proposal that allows all the Bush tax cuts above $250,000 to expire.”

Indeed, the revenue figures Mr. Biden pointed to — raising $800 billion — only apply to the bigger tax increase.

The liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said earlier this year that raising the tax rate on those who make $250,000 or more would raise an additional $829 billion over the next decade for the government.

Increasing the threshold to $1 million would raise $463 billion — 44 percent less than the $250,000 level.

For his part, Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan said no matter what kinds of tax increases on the wealthy Mr. Obama is talking about, it won’t be enough to cover his promises.

“There aren’t enough rich people and small businesses to tax to pay for all their spending,” Mr. Ryan said. “Watch out middle class: The tax bill is coming to you.”

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