Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Monday backtracked on his remarks about raising taxes on wealthy Americans, saying the rich might simply get a smaller tax cut than he originally proposed.
On Sunday, Trump had said taxes on the wealthy would "go up a little bit" once his broad tax policy proposals, which include tax cuts for rich Americans, were negotiated with Congress - an apparent break with traditional Republican support for lower taxes in all income brackets.
But on Monday, Trump denied that he meant to imply he was willing to raise taxes for people in higher income brackets from their current level, saying he had been referring to potential adjustments to his own tax policy proposal.
"I may have to increase it on the wealthy - I'm not going to allow it to be increased on the middle class," Trump said on CNN. "Now, if I increase it on the wealthy, that means they're still going to be paying less than they are paying now. I'm talking about increasing it from my tax proposal."
The proposal, released in September, included broad tax breaks for businesses and households, with the highest income tax rate reduced to 25 percent from the current 39.6 percent rate.
Trump, a billionaire real estate developer, said on Monday that lowering taxes on the middle class and businesses was his priority.
"I'm not talking about a tax increase. I'm talking about a tremendous tax decrease, OK?" Trump said on the Fox Business Network, saying proposals always change in negotiations with Congress but that he was committed to cutting taxes.
"I'm not talking a raise from where they are now; I'm talking about a raise from my low proposal," he said.
Trump won support from influential antitax crusader Grover Norquist, who has backed Trump's tax plan. Norquist said on CNBC on Monday that some people who have a lot of tax credits might see some increase, but that rates would drop overall under Trump's plan.
"He's made it very clear he wants lower taxes," Norquist said. "Trump's tax cut would be a tax cut for every American."
Norquist's group, Americans for Tax Reform, asks all Republican candidates to sign a no-new-taxes pledge, but Trump has not signed one yet. Norquist said he was confident the candidate would sign given his public comments.
"I'm very happy, I sleep very well at night," Norquist said on CNN, referring to Trump's tax stances.
Trump on Monday also sought to clarify comments he made last week about the U.S. debt. He said he never espoused restructuring or defaulting on government debt but would buy back the debt at a discount if interest rates go up.
Trump effectively clinched the Republican nomination for the Nov. 8 presidential election with a primary election victory in Indiana last Tuesday that forced his last two rivals out of the race.
His candidacy has caused a rift in the Republican Party, where many leaders have been appalled by his rhetoric on immigrants and Muslims and concerned that some policy positions such as Trump's opposition to free trade run counter to Republican orthodoxy.
Many Republicans oppose raising the federal minimum wage, but Trump has embraced a higher minimum. He said he would leave the issue up to the states, because some places, such as New York, are more expensive to live in.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Frances Kerry and Jonathan Oatis)