Commentary Magazine


Is Cantor Backing Off Norquist Pledge?

Lindsey Graham, Saxby Chambliss, Bob Corker, and Peter King have already distanced themselves from Grover Norquist’s pledge not to increase taxes, and now it looks like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is downplaying the pledge too:

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) appeared to take a step back from anti-tax champion Grover Norquist on Monday, suggesting that a “no new taxes” pledge coordinated by Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform group wouldn’t determine his legislative duties regarding ongoing fiscal cliff negotiations.

“When I go to the constituents that have reelected me, it is not about that pledge,” Cantor said on MSNBC. “It really is about trying to solve problems.”

Asked if he could foresee a situation in which he would be willing to directly renounce the anti-tax pledge, Cantor dodged specifics, saying that he didn’t know because he hadn’t talked to Norquist.

This is the strongest challenge yet to Norquist’s anti-tax pledge, but it’s unclear whether any Republicans would actually follow through on the threats. Graham, for example, has said he’d go against the pledge in return for extensive concessions on entitlement reform from Democrats, which are unlikely to happen.

But maybe it’s not just a bluff. Exit polls showed voters favor tax hikes on the wealthy, raising pressure on Republicans (especially ones like Graham, who are up for reelection) to consider it. Norquist promises he’ll target any member of congress who breaks the pledge:

Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist said Monday that his group, Americans for Tax Reform, would work to unseat Republicans who break their pledge to never vote for higher taxes.

His vow came after prominent GOP lawmakers said over the weekend they would consider breaking the Taxpayer Protection Pledge in order to reach a deal with Democrats and President Barack Obama to avoid tumbling over the fiscal cliff – the combination of sweeping spending cuts and tax increases that would go into effect at the end of the year if negotiators can’t reach a deal on reducing the federal debt.

Norquist said his group would “certainly highlight who has kept their commitment and who hasn’t” when it comes time for lawmakers like Sen. Lindsey Graham and Rep. Peter King to run for re-election, though Norquist claimed voters generally decide on their own to oust elected officials who vote to raise taxes.

Most of Norquist’s influence in Congress stems from the pledge. But without enforcement, it’s just a piece of paper. If he can’t keep members in line, the pledge becomes meaningless. Then again, Republican leadership won’t appreciate him targeting pledge defectors in 2014, particularly when control of the Senate may again be up for grabs.

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