GOP’s Ayotte: Norquist’s anti-tax-hike pledge doesn’t keep me up at night
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. speaks as Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., stands at left during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
FILE - In this April 14, 2011 file photo, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, left, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., center, wait on Capitol Hill in Washington for the start of the Americans for Tax Reform's annual Tax Day Eve news conference. For two decades Norquist has been the driving force in pushing the Republican Party toward an ever-more rigid position of opposing any tax increase, of any kind, at any time. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke, File) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte indicated yesterday that she could join a growing number of Republican lawmakers willing to buck a no-higher-taxes pledge in order to avert the year-end “fiscal cliff,” a combination of automatic federal budget cuts and expiring tax breaks.
“The only pledge that keeps me up at night is the pledge I owe to the people of New Hampshire and our country to work as hard as I can to make sure America doesn’t go bankrupt,” said Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican, in a statement.
The automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration, will go into effect Jan. 1 unless Congress passes legislation to reduce the federal budget deficit. And on Dec. 31, a number of tax cuts are set to expire. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said the combination will drive the country into a recession.
A deal to reduce spending, raise revenue or delay the implementation of the cuts would need to get through the House and the Senate and be signed by President Obama. And the year-end deadline leaves that in the hands of the lame-duck Congress.
Many Democrats, including Obama, have said any budget deal should include higher tax rates on wealthy Americans to raise revenue. Many Republicans have said they favor entitlement reform and spending cuts, but not higher taxes.
That fits with the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” a staple of GOP politics promoted by Grover Norquist, the influential president of Americans for Tax Reform. Signers of the pledge agree to oppose “any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate for individuals and business,” and to oppose any reduction or elimination of deductions or credits unless they’re matched by additional rate cuts.
Ayotte has signed the pledge. So have U.S. Reps. Frank Guinta and Charlie Bass, two New Hampshire Republicans who lost their seats to Democratic challengers in the Nov. 6 election.
But in recent days, a number of prominent Republicans have started to distance themselves from the pledge.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said Sunday that he would be willing to cap tax deductions if such a deal included reforms to entitlement programs, which include Social Security and Medicare.
“I agree with Grover – we shouldn’t raise rates – but I think Grover is wrong when it comes to we can’t cap deductions and buy down debt,” Graham said during an appearance on ABC, according to The Washington Post. “What do you do with the money? I want to buy down debt and cut rates to create jobs, but I will violate the pledge, long story short, for the good of the country, only if Democrats will do entitlement reform.”
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, told a local TV station last week that “I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge.” New York Republican Rep. Steve King appeared Sunday on NBC and said the pledge may be outdated. And in an interview with CBS yesterday, Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker said, “I’m not obligated on the pledge.”
Ayotte may join them. Her statement yesterday fits with a Nov. 17 radio address in which Ayotte, who was elected in 2010, said both Democrats and Republicans “recognize the importance of closing egregious tax loopholes that pick winners and losers.” She didn’t, however, express support for raising tax rates.
Bass, who is more moderate than Guinta, already signaled that he might buck the pledge when he supported a budget earlier this year based on the so-called Simpson-Bowles Commission report, which included both spending cuts and revenue increases.
In an email yesterday, Bass spokeswoman Stephanie DuBois said he believes “both parties must be willing to consider all ideas to prevent our nation from going over the cliff. Congressman Bass’ obligation has always been to the people of New Hampshire and doing what is in their best interest, and as always, is willing to consider all reasonable, bipartisan solutions to solve the challenges facing our economy and nation before the end of the year.”
Guinta’s office didn’t return a message seeking comment yesterday.
As for Norquist, the Americans for Tax Reform website rejects the idea that the “taxpayer protection pledge” is an obstacle to fixing the federal budget.
“Actually, the Pledge makes it easier for Republicans to negotiate with Democrats,” the website declares. “Net tax hikes (not to be confused with higher tax revenues resulting from pro-growth tax policy) are off the table for Pledge-signing members of Congress. That means that the focus of negotiations will remain right where the problem actually is – Washington’s over-spending problem.”
(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)