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Is Grover over? Less fear of Norquist's anti-tax pledge

Anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist put on a brave face despite rumblings of “new revenue” in the form of tax hikes to avert the so-called fiscal curb.
Grover Norquist (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
Grover Norquist

Anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist put on a brave face despite rumblings of “new revenue” in the form of tax hikes to avert the so-called fiscal curb.

The Americans for Tax Reform founder insisted his “pledge” remains rock-solid and that Republican lawmakers will not cave on their promises never to raises taxes. “It’s been 22 years since a Republican voted for a tax increase in this town,” said Norquist, according to a report published Tuesday in The New York Times. “This is not my first rodeo.”

But after the 2012 election, rustling up support may be more difficult. In January, the House will seat 16 incoming Republicans who have not signed on Norquist's dotted line–that’s up from six with the outgoing Congress.

“People don't always take the pledge first when they run. A lot take it after they have been there for a while,” Norquist said, defending the drop in new signatures. “The pledge isn't the only vehicle for stopping tax increases.''

Norquist earned the nickname “most powerful man in Washington who does not sleep in the White House” from msnbc’s Lawrence O’Donnell. His anti-tax pledge has seemed to hold Republican legislators–and a balanced budget deal–hostage. The GOP's refusal to raise taxes to pay down the deficit doomed President Obama's search for a budget deal last year.

Exit polling suggested that the majority of voters support Obama’s platform of raising taxes on Americans who earn more than $250,000 per year. And the president has explicitly said that he considers himself to have a mandate to do so.

Some top Republicans appear to be softening their stance. “Because the American people expect us to find common ground, we’re willing to accept some additional revenues via tax reform,” Boehner said in a press conference last week, the first flag that Norquist's worst nightmare might be coming true. Other Republicans leaders also began to adjust their rhetoric.

“A pledge is good at the time you sign it,” said Representative Peter T. King, a New York Republican who signed Norquist’s pledge. “In 1941, I would have voted to declare war on Japan. But each Congress is a new Congress. And I don’t think you can have a rule that you’re never going to raise taxes or that you’re never going to lower taxes. I don’t want to rule anything out.”

Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia is “frankly not concerned” about the pledge and Sen. John McCain implied it’s old news, saying “fewer and fewer people are signing this, quote, pledge.” Now, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has said he’s open to closing tax loopholes and eliminating deductions “even though that may technically violate the pledge.”

If Republicans find they can raise revenue and survive politically, Norquist's power may melt away.