Hoping to clear up ‘mixed signals’

HOPING TO CLEAR UP ‘MIXED SIGNALS’…. Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), who was on board with the original tax plan presented by President Obama, this morning lamented the “mixed signals” coming from the White House on tax policy.

That seems more than fair. The president and his team have been open to negotiation (which is fine), but in the process, have been inconsistent at times as to what they want (which isn’t fine).

But regardless of what we hear from White House staffers and through unsourced reports, the best sense of President Obama’s approach to any dispute is President Obama himself. And this morning, he adopted a line far more encouraging than the one we heard from David Axelrod on Wednesday.

After yesterday’s mini-freakout over what exactly White House adviser David Axelrod told the Huffington Post about President Obama’s intention to cave to Republicans urging an extension of all the Bush tax cuts — not just those for middle class incomes — Obama took time out of his swing through Asia to reiterate his opposition to the GOP plan.

“Here’s the right interpretation — I want to make sure that taxes don’t go up for middle class families starting on January 1st. That is my number one priority for those families and for our economy.” Obama told reporters gathered in Seoul, South Korea when asked about the Huffington Post article, in which Axelrod appeared to suggest the White House was backing off its strong opposition to extending the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy.

“I also believe that it would be fiscally irresponsible for us to permanently extend the high income tax cuts,” Obama said. “I think that would be a mistake, particularly when we’ve got our Republican friends saying that their number one priority is making sure that we are dealing with our debt and our deficit.”

The president concluded, “But I’m not going to negotiate here in Seoul. My job is to negotiate back in Washington, with Republican and Democratic leaders.”

Obviously, these remarks are preferrable to Axelrod’s, and suggest the White House position hasn’t really changed. The next step, then, is to see how the president and his team proceed on the policy.

CNN, meanwhile, is reporting today that there’s an “emerging tax cut compromise” that would simply keep the existing tax rates in place for everyone — without paying for any of it, of course — for a year or two.

Under no circumstances should that be considered a “compromise.” A policy in which Republicans get everything they want for a couple of years, at which point we’ll do all of this again, would feature no concessions from the GOP — which, oddly enough, continues to fight against permanent tax cuts for the middle class, a detail Dems should probably be repeating a little more often.