Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) is one of just six Republican in Congress who haven’t signed Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge. On the House floor Tuesday, he attacked Norquist for single-handedly enforcing this hard line within the GOP, creating a destructive impasse in the legislative process. “Everything must be on the table and I believe how the ‘pledge’ is interpreted and enforced by Mr. Norquist is a roadblock to realistically reforming our tax code,” Wolf said. “Have we really reached a point where one person’s demand for ideological purity is paralyzing Congress to the point that even a discussion of tax reform is viewed as breaking a no-tax pledge?”
Americans for Tax Reform continued the counterattack on Wolf in a series of e-mail blasts on Tuesday evening. “Frank Wolf Admits He Supports Trillions in Tax Hikes,” ATR titled one e-mail, calling the congressman’s support for the Bowles-Simpson commission’s recommendations an endorsement of a “net tax increase of $1-3 trillion over ten years.” (In fact, Bowles-Simpson raises $2.3 trillion in revenue by lowering rates but eliminating deductions and exclusions.) ATR also accused Wolf of borrowing the “Obama/DCCC Playbook to Craft Lies About the Tax Pledge,” saying that the pledge allows for the elimination of tax breaks so long as overall level of taxation doesn’t increase.
Wolf’s hit on Norquist was an unusually open attack by a conservative against the anti-tax absolutism that Congressional Republicans have almost uniformly embraced. But there have been earlier signs of this rift within the GOP. Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.), a staunch fiscal conservative, pitted himself against Norquist by proposing to eliminate tax breaks for ethanol. Norquist insisted that ending such subsidies would only be acceptable if the revenue was used to pay for more tax cuts.
Wolf, in fact, referred to Coburn’s feud in his denunciation on the House floor yesterday: “When Senator Tom Coburn recently called for eliminating the special interest ethanol tax subsidy, who led the opposition? Mr. Norquist.” The question is whether other Congressional Republicans will join Wolf and Coburn in openly pushing back against the Norquist, anti-tax orthodoxy that has been at the heart of the bipartisan struggle to reduce the deficit.
Update: Another Republican is pushing now back against Norquist. Sen. John Thune (S.D.), who signed the ATR anti-tax pledge, suggested that such pledges could be broken to achieve broad-based tax reform in a Wednesday interview with MSNBC.
Another update: Thune's press secretary later clarified the senator's position: “Senator Thune supports broad-based tax reform that lowers rates and broadens the base, so long as it does not result in a net tax increase."
ATR spokesman John Kartch points out that this position is still "100 percent consistent with the Taxpayer Protection Pledge." Thune's office didn't comment further about whether such pledges should be broken.