Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist tells Newsmax the claim that allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire would not constitute a tax increase — and would not violate a pledge not to raise taxes — “doesn’t pass the laugh test.”
Norquist has for the past 25 years encouraged candidates to sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a vow that they won’t raise taxes, and some 236 members of the House have signed it.
Controversy — and some confusion — arose when the Washington Post published an editorial on Wednesday claiming that Norquist, when asked if allowing the tax cuts to expire as scheduled in Decemeber 2012 would violate that pledge, responded: “Not continuing a tax cut is not technically a tax increase.”
President Obama has been trying to convince Republicans to agree to allow the cuts to expire in exchange for significant spending cuts, and the Post suggested that such a GOP agreement would make it easier for Democrats and Republicans to strike a deal on deficit reduction and raising the debt ceiling.
Democrats reacted favorably to Norquist’s remarks. House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer said his statement was a “major development,” and Sen. Chuck Schumer said: “This is a development the significance of which should not be underestimated.”
But Norquist has now clarified his position, telling Newsmax: “Bottom line is if Congress changes tax law reducing or limiting or delaying or ending the Bush tax cuts, that would clearly be a significant tax increase and would need to be counted as such.
“There was an effort by some to suggest that if Congress voted to get rid of the Bush tax cuts as part of a deal, the increased revenue from that wouldn’t count. Well, that just doesn’t pass the laugh test.
“People can play games with things like that, but if taxes are going up, taxes have been raised.
“Hopefully there will be little or no tax changes in the budget deal because the effort to increase the debt ceiling should focus on reducing spending. The problem we’re trying to solve is spending too much. Raising taxes is not part of fixing the overspending problem.”
Americans for Tax Reform also sought to “clarify concerns” raised by the Post editorial with a statement: “ATR opposes all tax increases on the American people. Any failure to extend or make permanent the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, in whole or part, would clearly increase taxes on the American people.
“ATR has not altered either its policy position or opposition to all tax increases whatsoever in any debt negotiations.”
And Norquist wrote in a New York Times editorial published on Thursday: “There has been much confusion — some of it my fault — over whether the ending of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts or the A.M.T. (Alternative Minimum Tax) ‘patches,’ scheduled for Dec. 31, 2012, should count as a tax hike. If they are ended, the government will take in nearly $4 trillion more over the next decade than if they remain.
“Contrary to the hopes of some that I am somehow softening the pledge, it is stronger and more important than ever.”
He also stated, regarding “a plan by some Democrats” that would end some or all of the lower tax rates, higher per-child tax credits, and the A.M.T. patches: “It is difficult to see how such a package would fail to violate the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.”
Interestingly, when the Post provided the audio of its interview with Norquist, slate.com noted, it contained a number of statements that were not included in the Post editorial.
Among them, Norquist said expiration of the Bush tax cuts would be “a very bad thing to do.” And he said that if a politician — Mitt Romney, for example — did support expiration with the claim that his support did not violate the pledge, he would “denounce him as a tax increaser and a bad guy.”
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