Barack Obama's press secretary on a carbon tax

An exchange from today’s “press gaggle” aboard Air Force One.

   I’m just speaking of the aftermath yesterday — he seemed to almost go out of his way to dismiss the idea of a carbon tax, kind of rule it out.  Why did he — why was he so —

MR. CARNEY:  We would never propose a carbon tax, and have no intention of proposing one.  The point the President was making is that our focus right now is the same as the American people’s focus, which is on the need to extend economic growth, expand job creation.  And task number one is dealing with these deadlines that pose real challenges to our economy, as he talked about yesterday. 

Everyone rightly is worried about the fiscal cliff and the effect that going over the cliff would have on the economy.  And as the President said yesterday, well, let’s do something that we all agree on that would mitigate over half of the potential damage caused by the fiscal cliff — that would be caused by the fiscal cliff.  Let’s pass tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people.  The Senate has done that.  The only obstacle is the House, the Republicans in the House; obviously, the Democrats in the House are absolutely ready to pass that tax cut, the extension of tax cuts for 98 percent. 

It is inconceivable to me, going back to I think the first question, that you could make an argument to the American people that it is right economic policy to hold the middle class hostage, to tell the middle class that their taxes are going to go up unless the top 2 percent of the American people, the wealthiest American people, the millionaires and billionaires get a tax cut.  That’s just bad policy, and it’s —

Q    So if you don’t do anything with the carbon tax, what can you do about climate change in the short term?  He talked about a national conversation, but beyond that, what does he want to do?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President, as he spoke about yesterday, has already taken significant steps, including doubling our fuel-efficiency standards, including doubling our renewable energy production and the investments that we’ve made in other areas of clean energy that will improve the situation from what it would have been in terms of carbon emissions. 

But there is more work to do.  I don’t have items that I’m going to lay out here on Air Force One for you, but I think the President gave a pretty expansive response to a question about this yesterday.

Compare and contrast this with the president’s response yesterday (in which the President didn’t rule out the possibility) and a Treasury Official’s comments earlier this week (which seemed to suggest some openness to the proposal if Republicans were prepared to propose it).

What’s interesting is the contention that the Obama administration “would” never propose a carbon tax. President Obama already did propose a cap-and-trade system. So either the Obama administration sees a difference between a carbon tax and cap-and-trade—a difference the Harper government no longer recognizes—or that “would” requires some explanation.