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GOP Finds Leeway in Grover Norquist’s Tax Pledge

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform pledge appears to leave room for politicians to say they are complying with it even if they are allowing taxes to go up.

Instead, he said trading temporary tax cuts for permanent tax increases would violate the pledge. Republicans are proposing permanent tax changes, not temporary ones.

Liberal groups jumped on Norquist's statement in July as a sign that his pledge has a giant loophole one that could allow up to $4 trillion in tax increases over the next decade.

As noted by liberal blog Think Progress, Norquist himself has acknowledged that there are ways around his pledge.

"There are certain things you could do technically and not violate the pledge but that the general public would clearly understand is a tax increase," Norquist said on MSNBC earlier this year.

Many House and Senate Republicans this year have publicly chafed under Norquist's various interpretations of the pledge, and he has become Democrats' favorite bogeyman as they seek to paint the GOP as beholden to the ATR front man.

If a deal is ultimately reached that raises taxes, Norquist's final pronouncement on whether it violates the pledge could have an effect on whether any final package can pass Congress and on Norquist's own perceived power.

Earlier this year in the Senate, Norquist was faced with a potential mass repudiation of the pledge by Republicans led by Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.) and backed by the Club for Growth. When Coburn forced a vote on an amendment killing an ethanol tax credit, Norquist scrambled to find a way to say pledge signers who voted for it were not violating the pledge. Norquist said that because Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) had proposed a separate amendment that cut taxes, Republicans were free to vote for the ethanol amendment, even though DeMint's amendment never came up for a vote.

Norquist's apparent gymnastics angered Republican ethanol backers. Coburn and many other Republican Senators, meanwhile, including Toomey a former Club for Growth president openly disagreed with Norquist. They contended that tax credits like the one for ethanol are merely wasteful spending programs.

Some Republican Senators, meanwhile, believe that they can increase revenue and keep their pledges at the same time.

"Revenues can be increased, no question about it," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said.

"And you can do it in a variety of ways without breaking any pledges ... including some of the ways they've come up with," Hatch said of the Senate GOP super committee offer. Hatch said he hadn't yet decided whether he would support the proposal.

Another conservative activist, who did not want to be named, predicted Norquist would find a way to bless a super committee deal if it looks like it will pass with majority Republican support.

"Once he says this is the line and people cross it, then that's it," the activist said of Norquist's potential loss of clout.

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