The Obama White House left open the possibility Sunday that the president would break a campaign promise and raise taxes on people earning less than $250,000 to support his health care overhaul agenda.
White House adviser David Axelrod said the administration wouldn't rule out taxing some employees' benefits to fund a healthcare agenda that has yet to take final form. The move would be a compromise with fellow Democrats, who are pushing the proposal as a way to pay for the massive undertaking without ballooning the federal deficit.
"There are a number of formulations and we'll wait and see. The important thing at this point is to keep the process moving, to keep people at the table, to the keep the discussions going," Axelrod said. "We've gotten a long way down the road and we want to finish that journey."
Under the current proposals, a tax on health benefits would affect only those with pricey health plans. The idea would be to tax as income the portion of health benefits worth more than a specified limit. Officials are considering several options, including one that would set the limit at $17,240 for family coverage and $6,800 for individuals.
Plans worth more than that would be taxed; those worth less would see no increase.
Obama left open the possibility of a tax during interviews in the last week, insisting he wasn't taking any option off the table despite his personal opposition. But two of his high-profile advisers budget chief Peter Orszag and economic adviser Jason Furman both have indicated they support some taxes on health benefits to pay for the overhaul.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said that Obama should step in an oppose the tax if he's truly against it. Otherwise, he faces a loss to his own Democratic Party and his own campaign credibility. "I think it's going to take presidential leadership to get people of his party to see that we shouldn't be subsidizing high-end health insurance policies that drive up inflation in health insurance," said Grassley, the top Republican on the powerful finance committee.
To help sell his plan, Obama scheduled a town hall-style meeting this week in Annandale, Va., a Washington suburb. He plans to take questions Wednesday from the audience and from online sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
Axelrod appeared on ABC's "This Week" and NBC's "Meet the Press." Grassley appeared on "This Week."
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