Former President Clinton delivers the opening remarks at the CGI America… (Scott Olson / Getty Images )
WASHINGTON – Bill Clinton said Thursday that he's "very sorry" for comments he made days earlier that appeared to undermine President Obama's position on extending certain tax rates, chalking it up to a misunderstanding over when lawmakers needed to act ahead of a looming "fiscal cliff."
Appearing on CNN's "The Situation Room" from Chicago, where he's holding a major event for his Clinton Global Initiative, the former president repeatedly expressed regret about comments that Republicans had quickly circulated this week amid the ongoing debate over tax rates set to expire at year’s end.
"I was under the impression that something needed to happen before the election," Clinton said of his remarks on CNBC on Tuesday that he'd temporarily expand all of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts. Instead, that issue probably won't be decided until a lame duck session after the presidential and congressional elections.
"I support [Obama’s] position. I'm very sorry about what happened," Clinton said. "He should just stick with his position and negotiate with the Republicans when possible."
Clinton said he favors extending the current rates for the bottom 98% of Americans, while letting rates on the remaining 2% return to levels that were in effect through most of his administration. That's squarely in line with the current White House position, which Press Secretary Jay Carney repeated Thursday.
"[Obama] would sign tomorrow a bill that permanently extended the tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people, for all middle-class Americans," Carney told reporters traveling with the president to Nevada.
Clinton said it was imperative to maintain lower rates for the middle class to avoid an economic contraction because their wages have been flat for much of the last decade even as other costs increased. Raising taxes for upper-income Americans was key to a balanced strategy for debt reduction, Clinton added.
The Obama campaign has seemed to be mired in an endless news cycle about leading surrogates straying from message, and comments from Clinton, this week on the tax issue and a week earlier on Bain Capital, have proved the most tempting for Republicans to try to exploit.
Clinton told CNN that he was "strongly committed" to Obama's reelection, recent controversies notwithstanding.
"Look, in 2008 when he ran for president and defeated Hillary in the primaries, I did 40 events for him, 40, in the election,” Clinton said. “In 2012, I have done these major fundraisers, I have spoken up for him whenever I could, I have told people repeatedly I think he's done a good job -- a really good job -- under very trying circumstances, and better than some people give him credit for."