Is anti-tax activist Grover Norquist a major force in the Republican Party?
Not to hear House Speaker John Boehner tell it.
At his weekly news conference Thursday morning, Boehner (R-Ohio) was asked whether he believes the Americans for Tax Reform president and architect of the anti-tax pledge signed by an overwhelming majority of congressional Republicans is “a positive influence” on the House GOP conference.
The speaker shrugged his shoulders and paused at the podium for a full five seconds before responding.
“Listen, our focus here is on jobs,” Boehner said at last. “We’re doing everything we can to get our economy moving again and to get people back to work. It’s not often I’m asked about some random person in America.”
Asked whether he genuinely believed Norquist was a “random person” to members of his conference, Boehner replied, “Listen, our focus is on creating jobs, not talking about somebody’s personality.”
“Our conference is opposed to tax hikes because we believe that tax hikes will hurt our economy and put Americans out of work,” he added when asked about the impact of Norquist’s anti-tax pledge.
Norquist appeared to take no offense Thursday afternoon.
“Boehner is wise: ‘Our conf. is opposed to tax hikes because we believe that tax hikes will hurt our economy and put Americans out of work,’” he said via Twitter.
As The Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery has reported, as of last summer all but 13 of 288 Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill had signed Norquist’s pledge not to raise taxes.
Democrats have increasingly ramped up their focus on Norquist as a special bipartisan “supercommittee” nears its Nov. 23 deadline to draft a far-reaching debt-reduction plan. They are arguing that Norquist has wielded his political clout to ensure that nearly all Republicans are opposed to any plan that would include tax increases.
In remarks on the Senate floor on Wednesday, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) charged that Republicans “are terrified to violate the infamous Grover Norquist tax pledge, even though they know it’s the right thing to do.”
“They are in thrall to a man whose singular focus is keeping taxes low for the very wealthy, no matter what the effect on this nation,” Reid said, according to his prepared remarks. “They fear his political retribution.”
Norquist was on Capitol Hill Thursday morning for an event on energy subsidies with Reps. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) and Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas). It was his second such event in recent months.
Norquist fired back this week at Reid and other Democratic critics via Twitter.
“Hey Harry Reid: if I became a Buddhist monk and moved to Himalayas no pledge taker would help you raise taxes. They Promised their voters,” Norquist tweeted on Tuesday.