WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former President Bill Clinton on Tuesday jumped into the debate over how to handle the looming expiration of historically low tax rates paid by nearly every American, putting him somewhat at odds with fellow Democratic President Barack Obama.
Clinton, speaking on the cable television program CNBC, said Congress may have to temporarily extend all of the low tax rates that expire at the end of the year to give lawmakers more time to come up with a plan to cut deficits.
The former president’s quip marked the second time in recent days that his message ran counter to that of the Obama re-election campaign.
Last week, Clinton suggested that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was qualified to be president and noted that had a “sterling business career.”
The remarks came as the Obama campaign was trying to raise doubts about Romney’s record in the private sector.
The tax cuts were first put in place under former President George W. Bush. Obama extended the rates for two years at the end of 2010, after Democrats suffered huge losses in congressional elections.
Now, Obama and Democrats want to let some of the lower tax rates expire for the wealthiest Americans. Clinton’s comments could undercut that position.
“They will probably have to put everything off until early next year,” Clinton said on Tuesday.
But the former Democratic president also had some criticisms of Republicans, saying that it would be a mistake to permanently extend the Bush tax cuts and that Republican deficit-reduction ideas could hurt the U.S. economy.
Republicans jumped on Clinton’s remarks about the Bush tax cuts to bolster their case that the economy will be harmed if some of the tax rates for wealthier Americans are allowed to expire.
Clinton and Obama have had a tense relationship over the years, dating back to Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008.
If Congress fails to act on the Bush-era tax cuts before January 1, letting all the lower rates lapse, the country could dip briefly back into a recession, the Congressional Budget Office said last month.
Reporting by Kim Dixon; Editing by Lisa Shumaker