Norquist Unintentionally Throws His Support Behind Democrats’ Middle-Class Tax Cuts

Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist

Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist

Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform announced Wednesday that Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) proposed “Plan B” to extend expiring tax cuts on the first $1 million in annual income would not really be a “tax increase,” and thus would not violate the ironclad oath nearly all Congressional Republicans have taken to never vote to raise taxes. In so doing, the group effectively also conceded that President Obama’s proposed extension of tax cuts for the first $250,000 of income would also not violate the Norquist pledge.

Throughout the presidential campaign and the recent fiscal negotiations, President Obama’s proposal has been clear: extend tax cuts on the first $250,000 in annual income and allow the rates on income above that amount to be taxed at the Clinton-era rates. While a few Republican lawmakers have embraced a plan that passed the Senate and has strong Democratic support in the House to do just that, many have been reluctant.

A key reason was their fealty to Norquist and the pledge; in an interview with ThinkProgress on Tuesday, Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) demonstrated in 67 seconds how that pledge outweighs other considerations.

In the past, ATR has attacked the Obama’s tax cut proposal as a “small business tax hike..” In July 2011, it warned “ATR opposes all tax increases on the American people. Any failure to extend or make permanent the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, in whole or in part, would clearly increase taxes on the American people.” Norquist attacked pledge-signers who expressed a willingness to let rates go up as having “impure thoughts” and suggested that extending only some of the tax cuts would not pass the “laugh test.”

But today, the group conceded that Boehner’s approach — and therefore Obama’s — would not really violate his pledge. They said:

This legislation—popularly known as “Plan B”–permanently prevents a tax increase on families making less than $1 million per year. Republicans supporting this bill are this week affirming to their constituents in writing that this bill—the sole purpose of which is to prevent tax increases—is consistent with the pledge they made to them. In ATR’s analysis, it is extremely difficult—if not impossible—to fault these Republicans’ assertion.

In particular, in this Congress the House has already voted twice to prevent any tax increases on any American. When viewed with this in mind, and considering this tax bill contains no tax increases of any kind — in fact, it permanently prevents them — matters become more clear. Having finally seen actual legislation in writing, ATR is now able to make its determination about a legislative proposal related to the fiscal cliff. ATR will not consider a vote for this measure a violation of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.

But while the amounts in the Boehner proposal and the Democratic plan differ, if the Boehner proposal is neither a “tax increase” nor a violation of the anti-tax oath, the same would have to be true of the Obama plan.