Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Coburn, Norquist and the no tax pledge

Coburn, Norquist and the no tax pledge
By Eric Black

In Washington and in St. Paul, we are headed for some kind of big showdown testing how far Repubs will go to honor their No-New-Taxes pledge.

As I have mentioned before, almost all elected Repubs have signed the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” developed and enforced by Americans For Tax Reform and its leader Grover Norquist, who is one of the major kingmakers (and kingbreakers) of the party.

There’s a lot of loose talk about a way around the pledge, by eliminating deductions, credits and other tax loopholes and breaks without raising rates, maybe even eliminating so many loopholes that you can lower rates and still end up with more revenue. Unfortunately for those who are thinking along those lines, Norquist is ahead of them and has added a second provision to the pledge specifying that any elimination of deductions or credits must be offset “dollar for dollar” by rate cuts. So, it’s pretty clear, if you signed the pledge and then went along with a deductions and rates fandango that ends up producing higher revenue, you have violated the pledge.

Repub Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, one of the bipartisan “Gang of Six” that is negotiating a not-so-secret big deficit reduction plan, has signed the pledge but is nonetheless talking about such a fandango. On “Meet the Press” Sunday, Coburn said the gang wasn’t talking about raising anyone’s tax rate but that if the tradeoff between deductions and tax rates produced a net increase in tax revenue, “that would be fine with me.”

Article continues after advertisement

Host David Gregory then put on the screen the copy of the Norquist pledge that Coburn had signed.

Replied Coburn:

“Which pledge is most important, David? The pledge to uphold your oath to the Constitution of the United States or a pledge from a special interest group who speak — who claims to speak for all of American conservatives, when in fact, they really don’t?”

Sorry Mr. Norquist. That’s you he’s talking about.

Politico reached Norquist who was not shy with his feelings:

“The pledge that Tom Coburn signed was to the citizens of Oklahoma. He made that promise in campaigning for Senate in Oklahoma.

“Coburn said on national TV today that he lied his way into office and will vote to raise taxes if he damn well feels like it, never mind what he promised the citizens of Oklahoma. Sen. Coburn knows perfectly well that the pledge is not to any organization but to the citizens of his state. He lied to them, not to Americans for Tax Reform.

“Before this recent television comment, Coburn told me personally in a phone call that he would not vote for a tax increase and repeated his commitment in writing in a public letter to me.”