Anti-tax crusader tries to keep GOP in line
At a time when lawmakers are trying to figure out how to contain the nation's burgeoning debt, some Republicans are rethinking their pledge to oppose all revenue increases.
The Associated Press
About the pledgeGrover Norquist's "Taxpayer Protection Pledge," which dates to 1986, commits a lawmaker to "oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate for individuals and business; and to oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates." Only 13 Republican lawmakers never have signed it, according to the Americans for Tax Reform. The breakdown:
Senate: Dick Lugar, Indiana; Chuck Grassley, Iowa; Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, Maine; Thad Cochran, Mississippi; John Hoeven, North Dakota; John Barrasso, Wyoming
House: Rob Woodall, Georgia; Kevin Yoder, Kansas; Richard Hanna, New York; Todd Russell Platts, Pennsylvania; Rob Wittman and Frank Wolf, Virginia
Note: Three Democrats — Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Reps. Ben Chandler of Kentucky and Robert Andrews of New Jersey — have signed the pledge.
Seattle Times staff
/ WASHINGTON — All but 13 of the 289 congressional Republicans have signed a pledge vowing to oppose tax increases. On Thursday, the author of that pledge met with some of them to help them understand exactly what it is they signed.
In the process, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist sparked a fresh barrage of criticism from Democrats who accuse him and his pledge of being one of the major impediments to a bipartisan, debt-cutting deal. Norquist and Republicans defended the pledge, denied he is hurting his party, and said gridlock on the issue is not his fault.
The pledge has been "extremely helpful" to the Republican Party, Norquist said after meeting privately with Republicans, saying the document has helped Republicans define a position that is popular with voters.
"They're not going to raise taxes to pay for Obama-sized government," said Norquist, who heads Americans for Tax Reform. "They're going to reduce Obama-sized government down to a size the American people will tolerate and are willing to pay for."
Thursday's session came at a time when some Republicans have been distancing themselves from Norquist's pledge, saying all options need to be available if a debt-reduction deal is going to be reached. The meeting also comes during an election-year fight over whether to extend expiring tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans at the end of this year, as Republicans want and Democrats oppose, and whether to overhaul the tax code.
People in the meeting said about 15 House GOP lawmakers and about 100 aides attended. The session focused on how to respond to questions about the pledge and traced its history and explained its meaning, participants said.
"There was no discussion in there today about amending anything, wiggling around or anything," said Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C.
Some Republicans such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have expressed a willingness to eliminate tax breaks and use some of the proceeds to reduce deficits. That would violate a tenet of Norquist's pledge, which says any money raised that way must be used to lower tax rates.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said this month that he never had signed the pledge because he does not believe politicians should "outsource your principles and convictions to people."
Norquist said those who have signed the pledge have made a "commitment to the American people" and should "focus on the commitment they made."
Norquist has become a favorite whipping boy for Democrats. With even GOP presidential challenger Mitt Romney having signed the pledge last year, Democrats see it as the symbol — and a cause — of the GOP's refusal to back a deficit-cutting deal last summer as President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, tried to reach a compromise.
"They ought to be sitting down and working things out instead of holding court for him," said Michigan Rep. Sander Levin, the ranking Democrat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. "Norquist is here to hold feet to the fire when what we need are open minds."