In GOP activist circles it is known simply as “the pledge,” and over the past generation it has become the essential conservative credential for Republicans seeking elective office. Of the 242 Republicans in the House today, all but six have signed the pledge.
Of the 25 candidates this year promoted by the National Republican Congressional Committee as “Young Guns” and “Contenders” — the top rungs of a program that highlights promising candidates who are challenging Democrats or running in open seats — at least a third have indicated they do not plan to sign the pledge authored by anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist.
Two of the seven candidates promoted by the NRCC as the “Young Gun Vanguard” — candidates competing in open seats that are considered Republican-leaning — also have declined to sign.
The pledge pushed by Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, compels candidates to “resist any effort” to raise tax rates for individuals and businesses. Signers also pledge to oppose the elimination of tax credits and deductions unless they are matched dollar-for-dollar with tax cuts.
Norquist insists ATR, the powerful group he founded in 1986, is ahead of schedule in collecting pledge signatures from congressional candidates for the year. He points out that the likely GOP nominee for president, Mitt Romney, has signed the pledge. But there have been defections.
Republican candidates declining to sign generally indicate that they nevertheless oppose tax hikes. But some chafe against the constraint on eliminating tax loopholes, believing those restrictions limit Republicans’ ability to negotiate seriously with Democrats on a deal to tackle the nation’s mounting debt.
In Pennsylvania, Republican state Rep. Scott Perry said he was disappointed to see his party’s presidential candidates — all but one of whom signed the pledge — uniformly indicate in a debate last year that they would reject a deficit reduction deal that paired $1 in revenue increases for every $10 in spending cuts.
“I just think it’s imprudent to hem yourself in where you can’t make a good agreement that overall supports the things you want to do,” said Perry, who said he generally opposes tax increases but recently won a Republican primary in a conservative district over candidates who had signed the pledge. “I just don’t see what the point of signing would be for me. . . . I’ve got a record, and everyone who wants to know where I’ve been and where I’m at can look to that.”
Others insist they can make promises to voters without signing a pledge circulated by a Washington lobbying group. That indicates Democrats might be having some success at painting Norquist as a D.C. insider instead of the anti-establishment rebel he portrays himself to be.
“I don’t want to get tied up in knots,” said Richard Tisei, an NRCC Young Gun and former Republican state senator in Massachusetts who is running against Democratic Rep. John F. Tierney. “If there’s a loophole that can be closed that ends up generating additional revenue that can be used specifically to pay down the national debt, I’m not going to lose sleep. And I don’t want to be bound by the pledge not to close it.”