On Nov. 2, White House Spokesman Tony Snow appeared on CNBC's "Kudlow and Company." Host Larry Kudlow asked him: "There are rumors now that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson ... might be willing to accept an increase in the top personal tax rate and maybe an increase in the taxable wage base in order to get an entitlement compromise. Can you squash those rumors?"
"No, I can't," said Snow.
On Nov. 22, Paulson told The Washington Post there were "no preconditions" on his discussions with members of Congress about Social Security reform.
At a White House press briefing on Dec. 8, my colleague John Gizzi, political editor of Human Events, asked Snow: "It's been reported that Secretary Paulson has not closed the door on raising taxes in his discussions with Democratic congressional leaders. Does the president rule out raising taxes, including lifting the income tax cap on payroll taxes and lifting the marginal income tax rates?"
Snow tried to evade the question, but Gizzi persisted: "So you are ruling out a tax increase? Or you're not?"
"No, I'm not," said Snow. "I'm not commenting either way. I'm not ruling it up, and I'm not ruling it down, because you know what, as you and I have seen in the past, definitions of these things can be very squirrelly."
The Washington Post last week asked Bush himself about the possibility of raising taxes as part of a Social Security reform deal. "I don't see how you can move forward without people feeling comfortable about putting ideas on the table," Bush said. "I have made it clear that I have a way forward that can do it (without raising taxes), and I want to hear other people's opinions."
President Bush may be tempted to believe that cutting a Social Security deal with a Democratic Congress -- even if it requires a tax increase -- would improve his current standing as well as his long-term legacy. If so, he is wrong on both counts. Such a deal would cut deeply into his remaining support, and history would remember him as another Bush who reversed course on taxes.