Despite a flurry of Republican emails to the contrary Tuesday night, Bill Clinton insists he is not a surrogate for Mitt Romney.
Republicans seized on an interview Clinton gave CNBC Tuesday and which initial reports characterized as a break with President Obama on tax policy and the state of the economy. CNBC teased the interview under the headline, “US Already in ‘Recession,’ Extend Tax Cuts: Bill Clinton”. The New York Times initially reported the interview under the headline, “Clinton, in Break With Obama, Urges Tax Cut Extension,” but later changed it to, “Clinton Suggests Extending Tax Cuts Temporarily.”
Here’s what Clinton told CNBC, from the network’s transcript:
MARIA BARTIROMO: So does that mean extending the tax cuts?
PRES. BILL CLINTON: Well, I think what it means is they will have extend— they will probably have to put everything off until early next year. That’s probably the best thing to do right now. But the Republicans don’t want to do that unless he agrees to extend the tax cuts permanently, including for upper income people.
And I don’t think the president should do that. That’s going to— that’s what they’re fighting about. I don’t have any problem with extending all of it now, including the current spending level. They’re still pretty low, the government spending levels. But I think they look high because there’s a recession. So the taxes look lower than they really would be if we had two and a half, 3% growth. And the spending is higher than it would be if we had two and a half, 3% growth because there are so many people getting food stamps, so many people getting unemployment, so many people are Medicaid.
But— the real issue is not whether they should be extended for another few months. The real issue is whether the price the Republican House will put on that extension is the permanent extension of the tax cuts, which I think is an error.
The New York Times reported the quote this way: “Clinton appeared to be voicing a position that neither party has embraced: stop the short-term spending cuts and extend the tax cuts, but only temporarily.”
Republicans leapt on the CNBC interview, flooding reporters’ inboxes with quotes. “Wanted to make sure you saw Bill Clinton broke with Obama again today, this time calling for a tax cut extension,” wrote an RNC spokesperson.
“President Obama’s plans for a massive tax increase after the election will further harm the economy,” wrote the the Romney campaign. “Don’t just take our word for it. Today, former President Bill Clinton endorsed continuing tax relief for job creators - not the tax increase President Obama has in mind.”
In a statement Tuesday night, Clinton’s team begged to differ. Clinton spokesperson Matt McKenna said Clinton had not taken the Republican line on the Bush tax cuts, nor had he recast the slowly recovering economy as in recession:
“Two questions have been raised regarding President Clinton’s interview on CNBC today. First, on extending the Bush tax cuts, as President Clinton has said many times before, he supported extending all of the cuts in 2010 as part of the budget agreement, but does not believe the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans should be extended again. In the interview, he simply said that he doubted that a long-term agreement on spending cuts and revenues would be reached until after the election.
Second, on the current condition of the economy, he said at the top of the interview that the main goal for those in Washington was “to keep the expansion going.” Later, in the interview, he said government spending levels were higher and revenues were lower than they would normally be because there was a recession and we’re still living with the aftermath of it. It’s obvious since we’ve had 4.3 million new private sector jobs in the last 27 months that we’re not in a recession, even though we’d all like growth to be higher.”