Republican House members are increasingly separating themselves from Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform, the interest group he leads. Specifically they’re disconnecting from ATR’s pledge to oppose any tax increase, The Hill reports.
While some congressmen signed the pledge recently, others did so years ago. Norquist began the pledge in 1986. ATR cites 238 House signers of its Taxpayer Protection Pledge, but several House Republicans accuse the group of being underhanded about it and want to remove their names from the list.
On its Internet display of the pledge’s signers, which includes all but six House Republicans, Americans for Tax Reform includes several congressmen who say they refused to sign it in last year’s election campaigns.
“I haven’t signed it since 1994,” Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, told The Hill. He said he didn’t even recall joining the pledge until Norquist’s group found the original document earlier this year. And he doesn’t view it as a permanent commitment.
“My driver’s license expires. The milk in my refrigerator expires. My gym membership expires, and I find the website to be a little deceptive,” LaTourette said. While several other House Republicans voiced the same thoughts, Norquist would have none of it.
“Does that even pass the laugh test?” he asked The Hill. “A promise not to do something doesn’t have a time limit. I haven’t even had junior state legislators pull that crap.”
Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, signed the pledge in 1998, in his first congressional election. “I thought it was for the next Congress,” he told The Hill “If it sticks with you forever, why do they ask you to re-sign it every two years?”
ATR said it tries to avoid asking candidates to sign the pledge more than once.
Part of the problem with the hedge is that it hems Republicans in as the bipartisan supercommittee on deficit reduction approaches its Nov. 23 deadline for making a recommendation. Democrats insist that any budget agreement include some kind of tax revenue increase in addition to spending cuts.
Some Republican supercommittee members have proposed increasing tax revenue by restricting deductions in exchange for cutting rates. Norquist, writing on Twitter, called that an “idiot idea” akin to the Alternative Minimum Tax.
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., signed the pledge prior to his election to Congress in 2004, and he doesn’t like having his policymaking flexibility limited, his spokeswoman Kerri Price told The Hill.
Since the start of his second term Fortenberry has asked repeatedly – and unsuccessfully -- to be removed from the list, she said. “I don’t care to be associated with it. It’s too constraining,” Fortenberry said at a town hall meeting in his district over the summer, according to the Lincoln Journal Star.
Republican Reps. Howard Coble of North Carolina, Pete King of New York, and Lee Terry of Nebraska, told The Hill they signed the pledge more than 10 years ago, but not for the current Congress. They were among 40 House Republicans who signed a letter to the supercommittee last week urging a grand bargain including more tax revenue, entitlement reform, and spending cuts. But they pointed out that they are calling for more revenue, not higher tax rates.
“As far as Mr. Norquist is concerned, that’s his call if he wants to bind us all based on one signature,” Coble said.
Norquist says his group is looking out for the congressmen’s constituents, not itself. “They made a promise to their constituents,” he said. “If they do raise taxes, they were elected on a lie. And we’re not going to pretend they’re not lying.”
To be sure, many Republicans seek to remain loyal to the ATR pledge. “Grover Norquist’s premise makes sense to most common-sense people,” freshman Rep. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania, a pledge signer who also signed the letter to the supercommittee, told The Hill.
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