Grover Norquist: Letting Bush tax cuts expire wouldn’t violate anti-tax pledge

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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“Not continuing a tax cut is not technically a tax increase.”

That shocking statement (reported in today’s Washington Post) didn’t come from Barack Obama — but surprisingly from Grover Norquist, the man behind American’s for Tax Reform’s (ATR) controversial “Taxpayer Protection Pledge.”

When asked if allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire would violate the no-tax pledge his group encourages candidates to sign, Norquist told the Post: “We wouldn’t hold it that way.”

As the debt ceiling deadline looms, this could have major ramifications. Political candidates who pledged to never support a tax increase may suddenly find themselves liberated to make a deal which, just 24 hours ago, would have been unthinkable. At the very least, this could provide cover for some Republicans.

It is also interesting, inasmuch as Norquist was recently embroiled in a fight with Republican Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) over whether or not eliminating the ethanol tax break must be coupled with offsetting tax cuts. (One would imagine closing loopholes and ending unfair subsidies that distort the free market would be a more defensible move than allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire. Norquist apparently disagrees.)

Technically, though, this is not specifically inconsistent with ATR’s pledge. Based on the pledge I just pulled off of ATR’s website, candidates vow to “oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and … oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”

The pledge doesn’t address allowing tax cuts to expire. Yet allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for all Americans (as opposed to President Obama’s calls for tax cuts to end for individuals making more than $200,000 and couples making more than $250,000) would constitute the largest tax increase in the history of America.

I’m told that ATR will release a statement later today which will clarify Norquist’s remarks. Expect ATR to make the point that just because something doesn’t technically violate their pledge, that doesn’t mean it is a good idea.

Matt K. Lewis