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Norquist Doesn’t Want GOP “Fingerprints” on Tax Hikes

Grover Norquist spoke at a Politico breakfast this morning, and it sounds like he’s leaving the door open for some creative tax compromises from Republicans. If tax rates go up, it would have to be without any active help from pledge-signers:

Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist said Wednesday Republicans need to have “credible” separation from any tax hike as part of a deal to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff — in order to make a case to voters in 2014 and 2016 that their vision is distinct from that of Democrats.

The party “can’t have their fingerprints on the murder weapon,” Norquist told POLITICO’s Mike Allen at a Playbook Breakfast. … 

Norquist said by having negotiations in public, Republicans would be able to “change the conversation” from raising taxes to holding Democrats feet to the fire over spending cuts.

“We have a spending problem, not a failure to raise taxes problem,” Norquist said.

He would not directly answer Allen’s questions if there was wiggle room for Republicans to raise taxes with out breaking his no-new-taxes pledge. But he did call Rep. Tom Cole’s proposal for Republicans to agree to a tax cut for 98 percent of Americans and negotiate the top rates later “an interesting tactic.”

As the Wall Street Journal argued yesterday, reforming the tax code without lowering the rates is a possible compromise. Another is the proposal from Rep. Tom Cole, which Norquist actually didn’t close the door on. It would entail Republicans agreeing to a tax cut extension for those making under $250,000 immediately, and then hashing out the tax extension for those making over $250,000 afterward: 

Republican Rep. Tom Cole urged colleagues in a private session Tuesday to vote to extend the Bush tax rates for all but the highest earners before the end of the year — and to battle over the rest later.

The Oklahoma Republican said in an interview with POLITICO that he believes such a vote would not violate Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge and that he’s not alone within Republican circles.

Cole’s position is striking because he’s hardly a “squish” — Norquist’s term for a weak-kneed lawmaker — when it comes to Republican orthodoxy. Cole served as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee and in other official posts within the party.

He might also provide cover for other Republicans looking to make an agreement to avoid a sharp fall off the so-called fiscal cliff. 

This would, at the very least, take away the Democratic Party’s most potent political argument that the GOP is holding middle class tax cuts hostage in order to extend breaks for the wealthy. It would also allow Republicans to make a more pointed case against tax hikes on upper-income earners, and its impact on the economy. 

However, a chance to make the case may be all Republicans would get in return. Agreeing to an immediate extension of 98 percent of the cuts would probably kill any chance the GOP has of negotiating for tax reform, and basically guarantee that rates will go up for the upper 2 percent. But, per Norquist’s criteria this morning, Republicans wouldn’t have their fingerprints on the tax hikes.


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