July 21, 2011
The lobbyist orchestrating Republican opposition to tax increases told The Washington Post editorial board Wednesday that he did not consider ending tax cuts a violation of his organization’s pledge to vote against any tax hike, which most Republicans in the House have signed.
“Not continuing a tax cut is not technically a tax increase,” Grover Norquist, who heads the anti-tax Americans for Tax Reform, told The Post. When asked if it would violate the pledge, he replied: “We wouldn’t hold it that way.”
When pressed to clarify his stance on MSNBC on Thursday morning, Norquist danced around the question, even refusing to call ending the Bush-era income tax cuts a violation of the pledge.
“There are certain things you can do technically and not violate the pledge but that the general public would clearly understand is a tax increase,” he said. “So I can be clear, Americans for Tax Reform would oppose any effort to weaken, reduce or not continue the 2001-2003 Bush tax cuts.”
The move represents a major change in the highly influential anti-tax group’s position, and could provide an opening for Republicans on Capitol Hill to sign onto a debt ceiling/deficit reduction deal that includes new revenue from expiring tax cuts or even the removal of tax expenditures like subsidies for ethanol.
At a Capitol press conference Thursday, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., read the quotes out loud to reporters. "I think Mr. Norquist has made a very important statement that I hope they each take into consideration," Hoyer said, referring to House Republicans.
Asked about that by MSNBC, Norquist replied: “No, Hoyer is wrong. The answer is, the people who have made this commitment not to raise taxes have made it clear they are not raising taxes, and [House Speaker John] Boehner and other the other Republicans have said that independent of the pledge.”
Asked at a news conference whether Norquist’s statement to The Washington Post would help produce a deficit-reduction deal, Boehner replied: “I’ll let you and the other pundits decide what it means. I’ve never voted to raise taxes and I don’t intend to.”
The Speaker added that he believes allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire “would be raising taxes.”
Prior to Norquist's comments to the Post on Wednesday, Republican negotiators in the debt ceiling talks have unanimously agreed that tax increases are “off the table,” infuriating Democrats and making a deal virtually impossible. Most of them have signed The Taxpayer Protection Pledge—a device issued by Americans for Tax Reform.
Norquist has been the engine behind the intractable GOP stance, as congressional leaders and the White House have sought a compromise on major deficit reduction and raising the debt ceiling before an August 2 deadline. Every signer of the pledge is listed on his website—and if one of them breaks rank and votes for revenue increases, he or she will likely be black listed, risk reelection and face the ire of their peers.
Norquist’s surprising reversal would open the door to allowing some or all of the Bush tax cuts to expire. Norquist was potentially adding $4 trillion in revenue to the federal budget over the next ten years, meeting the long-term deficit reduction goals of the White House, the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission and fiscal conservatives in one fell swoop.
Norquist was behind the original breakup of the “Gang of Six” when Senators Tom Coburn, R-Okla, Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, were chastised for considering tax increases in bi-partisan negotiations. He said on Feb. 17, 2011, “I was disappointed this morning to read an article … in which you were implicated as parties to a bipartisan budget deal containing a net tax increase …. Needless to say, support for such a deal would most likely be a violation of your Taxpayer Protection Pledge. That pledge which you made to your constituents and the American people obligates you to …oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar-for-dollar by further reducing tax rates.”
“I urge you to reject this so-called ‘deal’ which is little more than a transparent attempt to hike taxes and put off the spending restraint the country clearly called for in the 2010 elections,” Norquist added.
Norquist told The Washington Post that he keeps the signed pledges in a vault. But some senators, including Coburn, think Norquist’s strict interpretation of the pledge is out of line. Last month, 34 of the Senate's 47 Republicans voted to end a lucrative tax break for ethanol production—one that has rankled members of both parties as well as their constituents. Coburn was behind the initiative and Norquist punched back, implying Coburn was a traitor to the pledge and his party.