Mixed messages from the White House on tax cuts

Holly Bailey

In an interview with "60 Minutes" on Sunday, President Obama acknowledged that the White House might have a messaging problem. No kidding.

Speaking at a news conference Friday in the final stretch of his overseas trip to Asia, Obama insisted that he's not caving to Republican demands on the extension of the so-called Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Rather, Obama insisted his "No. 1 priority" continues to be pressing for the middle-class tax cuts from the Bush 2001 package to be made permanent. He insisted that continuing current tax rates for wealthier Americans "would be a mistake and we cannot afford it."

Obama's comments came a day after his senior adviser David Axelrod was quoted by the Huffington Post suggesting the White House might compromise with Republicans and accept a temporary continuation of all the Bush tax cuts. "We have to deal with the world as we find it," Axelrod said.

But Axelrod later backtracked, insisting the administration hadn't changed its position on tax cuts for the wealthy--he'd merely meant to suggest, he said, that the White House was open to discussion.

Speaking to reporters in South Korea, where he has been attending the G-20 summit, Obama said the media had a "wrong interpretation" of Axelrod's comments. Obama also pointed out that negotiations on the issue between the White House and Republicans aren't set to begin until next week, when Congress returns for a lame-duck session.

"I haven't had a conversation with Democratic and Republican leaders," Obama said. "I'm not going to negotiate here in Seoul. My job is to negotiate back in Washington."

The "right interpretation," Obama reiterated, is that his position on the tax cuts remains unchanged. "I want to make sure that taxes don't go up for middle-class families on Jan. 1," he said.

(Photo of Obama and Axelrod by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)