News Column

Va. GOP Cliffhanger: Still Bound by Norquist No-tax Pledge?

Dec. 13, 2012

Todd Allen Wilson, Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)

As the nation careens toward the fiscal cliff and negotiations between Congress and the White House seem to be moving at a snail's pace, many Republican lawmakers find themselves between a rock and a hard place.

If a deal isn't reached by the end of the month, the tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush will expire, and the sequestration process kicks in.

Sequestration is a set of more than $1 trillion in arbitrary federal spending cuts over 10 years -- including nearly $500 billion in defense spending -- put in place as a result of last year's deal to raise the nation's debt ceiling and an attempt to rein in a roughly $1.2 trillion budget deficit and more than $16 trillion in federal debt.

The problem for 238 representatives, two of them Democrats, and 41 senators, including one Democrat, is they have signed the anti-tax pledge drafted by anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, who leads Americans for Tax Reform.

Most economists agree that the solution to the problem is a mix of revenue increases and cuts -- with many analysts favoring a ratio of roughly $3 in cuts for every $1 in additional revenue.

At this point in the talks President Barack Obama is sticking to the position he successfully campaigned on -- letting the Bush-tax cuts expire for incomes over $250,000. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who has signed the Norquist pledge, has countered with a plan that raises revenues by capping deductions and closing loopholes to the tune of $850 billion while keeping the Bush tax cuts in place.

For those who have signed on with Norquist, agreeing to either proposal would break the pledge.

That could cause electoral problems down the road, especially in primaries where outcomes are "even more vulnerable to the influence of party bases," said Old Dominion University political science professor Jesse Richman.

For two local Republican members of Congress -- Reps. Rob Wittman of Westmoreland and Scott Rigell of Virginia Beach -- voting for revenue increases is less of a problem.

Wittman has never signed the no-tax pledge. He reiterated his position on signing political pledges Tuesday.

"My duty in Congress is to represent the people of Virginia's 1st District, and the only oaths I've taken are to my wife of 32 years and to uphold the Constitution," Wittman said.

Wittman said in any discussions of the nation's fiscal problems, "it's critical that fundamental tax reform be a part of the equation."

"At the same time, my commitment remains to address the unsustainable spending of the federal government, which is driving our deficit," Wittman said. "I believe that in order to get our fiscal house in order, we must cut duplicative and unnecessary government spending, as well as ensure that the spending in our autopilot programs is efficient and sustainable in order to preserve and protect these programs for future beneficiaries."

Rigell signed the pledge when he first ran for Congress in 2010, but his position has changed.

In March Rigell publicly renounced the pledge when he came to believe the country's fiscal problems couldn't be solved by cuts alone. He openly and successfully campaigned for re-election on the need for both revenue increases and budget cuts.

Rigell said he came to his decision after looking over data from the Congressional Budget Office.

"I did so after a careful analysis of the budget," Rigell said. "I see it as a distinctly -- and maybe counter-intuitively -- conservative position to say we as Republicans must have revenues equal to levels of spending we have authorized."

Rigell said spending cuts must significantly outweigh revenue increases and he is willing work toward the three-to-one cuts to revenue ratio.

He doesn't want to raise income tax rates at any level by letting some or all of the Bush-tax cuts expire. He prefers capping deductions and eliminating loopholes in ways that keeps the tax code progressive.

Rigell said he has been diligently working with both Republicans and Democrats to bring them around to his perspective.

Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake, who signed the Norquist pledge, isn't adverse to finding ways to increase federal revenue, just not by raising income taxes in the way Obama suggests. He said he believes there are ways to increase revenue without actually raising tax rates.

Forbes said the president and Democratic leaders in the Senate haven't been willing to sit down at the negotiating table with a serious offer.

"I think Speaker Boehner and our leadership should walk into a conference table every day, sit down at that table and hope the president and the Senate will show up at that table to do serious negotiations," Forbes said. "So far they haven't been willing even to sit at that table. Until you can sit at that table I think it would be unfair and unproductive to start disposing of things before anybody's even sat down to put them on the table."

Obama and Boehner met behind closed doors Sunday after not discussing the issue face to face for 23 days. Both sides kept silent on the substance of the discussion.

Virginia lawmakers who have signed the Norquist tax pledge

Congress

Scott Rigell, R-Virginia Beach, but Rigell retracted his pledge in March

Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake

Robert Hurt, R-Chatham

Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke

Eric Cantor, R-Henrico

H. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem

Statewide officials

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli

State Senate

9 Senators out of 40

Richard Black, R-Loudon

Tom Garrett Jr., R-Louisa

Stephen H. Martin, R-Chesterfield

Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg

Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg

Frank M. Ruff, R-Mecklenburg

Ralph K. Smith, R-Roanoke

Bill Stanley, R-Franklin

Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Faquier

House of Delegates

21 Delegates out of 100

David Albo, R-Fairfax

Robert Bell, R-Albemarle

Kathy Byron, R-Campbell

Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge

Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania

Barbara Comstock, R-Fairfax

Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights

C. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah

Greg Habeeb, R-Salem

Tim Hugo, R-Fairfax

Steve Landes, R-Augusta

Scott Lingamfelter, R-Prince William

Robert G. Marshall, R-Prince William

Randy Minchew, R-Loudon

Israel O'Quinn, R-Washington

Chris Peace, R-Hanover

David Ramadan, R-Loudon

R. Lee Ware, Jr., R-Powhatan

Michael J. Webert, R-Faquier

Tony Wilt, R-Rockingham

Tommy Wright, R-Lunenburg



Source: (c)2012 the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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