DANA POINT, Calif. — Jeb Bush said at a Koch network donor summit Sunday that he would not consider raising taxes even as part of a grand bargain to cut the deficit.
Although it was not prefaced with “Read my lips,” the former Florida governor stressed that more revenue should come from growth, not higher taxes.
It is a shift for the Republican presidential candidate, coming as he works to expand his appeal beyond the GOP establishment. In June 2012, Bush told the House Budget Committee that he would back a deal that would include $1 in tax increases for $10 in spending cuts.
“This will prove I’m not running for anything,” he joked at the time, telling reporters that it’s wrong to “shut down every option” that could help find common ground.
Now he is running, and he’s trying to expand his appeal beyond the GOP establishment. Asked if he’d consider tax increases during a question-and-answer session before 450 of the biggest donors in conservative politics, Bush declared without flinching: “No! No!”
“We’ve had the highest tax increases in the last three years,” he said, an apparent reference to his 2012 comment. “The grand bargain could have happened if the president was willing to engage, and he didn’t. He created a Simpson-Bowles commission. They made their report, and I don’t think the word ‘Simpson’ and ‘Bowles’ has been used in the same sentence in Washington, D.C., since. There was not a sincere effort.”
Bush reiterated his goal of growing the gross domestic product at 4 percent per year. He said that would bring in more money to the federal coffers than any tax increase.
“Now, since we’ve raised taxes, what we need to be doing is entitlement reform, curbing the growth of spending [and] creating a high growth scenario,” he said.
There is, of course, family history. Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, pledged when he ran for president in 1988 not to raise taxes. Then he did, as part of a compromise with congressional Democrats. It helped doom his reelection hopes in 1992.
But Jeb Bush said that his commitment not to raise taxes does not mean he will sign the Americans for Tax Reform no-new-taxes pledge, pushed by anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist.
“I don’t sign pledges,” he said. “No, I actually have the benefit of having a record where I cut taxes every year as governor: $19 billion worth of taxes. I don’t have to sign pledges.”
This got sustained applause from the crowd.
Bush also descried the new Environmental Protection Agency rules that will be introduced Monday.
“This is going to be a disaster, and we should fight it,” he said.
The governor said President Obama does not have power under the Clean Air Act to do what he’s doing.
“I believe it is unconstitutional, and I believe in a relatively short period of time the courts will weigh in,” he said. “It doesn’t solve the carbon issue that President Obama is so preoccupied with, but it hollows out our industrial core.”
Checking several other boxes important to Charles and David Koch, who own an energy company, Bush called for eliminating the crude oil export ban, which was enacted in 1973, and for expanding permitting to drill natural gas.
Bush also previewed a border security plan he will roll out on Monday, which he said will include several “deterrents” designed to prevent people from entering this country illegally.
Bush said Donald Trump leads the Republican polls because he has tapped into anger and frustration, but he said he wants to be constructive and do something about it.
Bush volunteered that, in addition to private meetings with donors here at the St. Regis resort on the Pacific Ocean, he spent time Sunday preparing for the first Republican presidential debate on Thursday. He said he expects Fox News Channel to inject as much drama as possible.
Bush received a warm reception, including a partial standing ovation. He was the only one of five presidential candidates who addressed the 450 mega-donors this weekend to appear in a full suit.
Politico’s Mike Allen, who conducted a half-hour interview on stage, asked Bush about his diet and his new Apple watch.
Bush said he began seeing a personal trainer because of a torn meniscus. Initially, he said, he lost 20 pounds just from getting upright and strong again. Then his son, George P. Bush, “shamed” him into trying the Paleo diet.
Bush said that “you’re not supposed to drink wine,” but he still does form time to time.
“I recommend it highly,” he said.
Bush acknowledged that dieting can make him irritable. “I get grumpy,” he said, noting that he tries to eat some almonds about 3 p.m. every day.
To maintain his diet, he said, he cheats on it on Sundays.
Regarding the Apple watch, Bush complained that the battery dies too quickly. He flashed his on stage and said it was already down to 10 percent. He said it cost about $499 and recommended that others wait for future models.
“There will be another one that will be even better,” he said.