Smokers, tanning aficionados, the happily uninsured: More taxes coming at ya!
We were willing to give President Barack Obama a Compromise rating on this promise when a new cigarette tax went into effect. But the latest health care bill includes more broad-based taxes that are pushing us toward Promise Broken.
We should state at the outset that if you think Obama only meant he would not raise income taxes on people making less than $250,000, then you might think Obama is keeping his promise. The Bush tax cuts expire at the end of 2010, and Obama said he would extend those tax cuts for those making less than $250,000. We still have that promise rated In the Works. People who make more than $250,000 will likely see their taxes go up, just as Obama promised during the campaign.
But Obama's campaign rhetoric took him beyond just income taxes. "Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes," Obama said. It's that "not any of your taxes" that is the sticking point.
The health care law that Obama signed on March 23, 2010, raises taxes on some things regardless of income. Two taxes in particular stand out. A tax on indoor tanning services begins this year. And in 2014, people will have to pay a fine, levied through their income taxes, if they don't have health insurance. Neither of these taxes are pegged to income.
Obama has made the case that the tax penalty for people who decline to buy insurance should not be considered a broken promise on taxes. If that tax, better known as the individual mandate, were the only new measure we were considering, we might be inclined to rate this a Compromise. But the fact is, if you're a happily uninsured smoker who likes to tan, you are facing a triple whammy.
Obama made many other tax promises that are rated In the Works, and may ultimately move to Promise Kept. But this promise was so broadly phrased that almost any type of revenue-generating measure could have contradicted it. We're now willing to rate it Promise Broken.
Cigarette tax for SCHIP nips at Obama tax promise
When we launched the Obameter to track President Barack Obama's campaign promises, we identified 38 on taxes covering everything from repealing the Bush tax cuts for higher incomes to supporting tax deductions for artists .
Then, on April 1, 2009, a new cigarette tax went into effect, and we got lots of e-mail from readers saying it violated a promise Obama made on the campaign trail not to raise any taxes on people who make less than $250,000 a year. Lots of people who smoke make less than $250,000 a year, so Obama broke his promise, these readers told us.
We confirmed the quote that many readers sent us. On Sept. 12, 2008, while on the campaign trail in Dover, N.H., Obama said, "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. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes."
We didn't have a promise like this in our database. We had separate promises that Obama would make the Bush tax cuts for lower incomes permanent and that he would raise capital gains taxes only on higher incomes. We decided to add this new, more broadly stated promise to our database.
On April 1, cigarette taxes went up. Certainly many people who smoke make less than $250,000. Should we rate this Promise Broken?
This launched an interesting debate here at PolitiFact. Was the final part of Obama's statement "not any of your taxes" intended as a sweeping declaration against any tax, or was he speaking only in the context of income-based taxes? We noted that his statement began with the phrase "Under my plan ..."
We looked to our coverage during the campaign for greater clarity.
Obama has long been on record supporting the cigarette tax increase. During the campaign, Obama often said he supported legislation to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program. At the time, that legislation was in Congress, and even then it included higher cigarette taxes. By saying he supported the SCHIP legislation, Obama was supporting the increased cigarette taxes to pay for it.
Another part of our deliberation was that when Obama was on the campaign trail saying that " no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase," his examples were all federal income or payroll taxes. Cigarette taxes are a federal excise tax, which is a tax on goods. (Other federal excise taxes are levied on things like alcohol, gasoline and firearms.) These are not taxes that affect people based on income level, but rather based on whether they purchase certain goods. So while some families who make less than $250,000 a year will be affected by cigarette taxes, the taxes are based on their decision to buy cigarettes, not based on their income.
Obama's promise on the campaign trail may have been a bit of rhetorical excess based on his income tax plan, which seeks to exempt lower incomes from tax increases. Obama has taken specific steps to change that tax code, such as creating capital gains taxes that only apply to higher incomes, that are aimed at protecting the middle class from new taxes. Also, the cigarette tax does not hit all families that make less than $250,000 a year, but only those who choose to smoke. Finally, Obama clearly stated during the campaign that he supported legislation that would raise the cigarette tax, and he never mentioned any form of excise tax when making the promise.
Still, it's a tax increase. People who smoke will pay higher taxes under the measure that Obama signed. We added this promise to our database and rated it a Compromise.
Federal News Service, remarks of Sen. Barack Obama in Dover, N.H., Sept. 12, 2008
White House Web site, SCHIP , accessed Feb. 4, 2009
Thomas, SCHIP legislation , accessed Feb. 4, 2009
Thomas, SCHIP legislation , 2007
Senate vote, SCHIP legislation , Aug. 2, 2007
PolitiFact.com, The SCHIP debate , Oct. 15, 2007
The Tax Foundation, Federal Excise Taxes , 1944 - 2008