Rep. Frank Wolf, a 16-term Republican from Virginia, delivered a heated speech this morning on the House floor attacking the architect of an influential tax pledge popular with conservatives that many of his GOP colleagues consider to be sacrosanct.
“My conscience has compelled me to come to the floor today to voice concerns I have with the influence Grover Norquist, the president of the Americans for Tax Reform, has on the political process in Washington,” Wolf began. “Reasonable people can disagree on the merits of pledges – and I respect those differences – but the issue is with the interpreter and enforcer of a pledge.”
The Taxpayer Protection Pledge is championed by Grover Norquist’s organization, Americans for Tax Reform, and commits candidates seeking public office “oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses” and “oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”
Wolf criticized the pledge, has been signed by the vast majority of Congressional Republicans and candidates seeking public office. Wolf is one of six House Republicans not to sign it. He said Norquist has used the pledge to advance other issues Wolf believes most voters oppose.
“Everything must be on the table and I believe how the ‘pledge’ is interpreted and enforced by Mr. Norquist is a roadblock to realistically reforming our tax code,” Wolf said. “I understand that some may not agree with what I say today. I also know many are not aware of Mr. Norquist’s associations, but my conscience compels me to speak out.”
Wolf, a moderate Republican representing a suburban area of Northern Virginia, said he was raising the concerns today in the context of solving the problems that face the future of the country because ideologues like Norquist are obstructionists to bipartisanship on Capitol Hill.
“America is in trouble. Unemployment is over 9 percent. Housing values continue to decline. Retirement accounts are threatened. The American people are worried. Yet, Washington is tragically shackled in ideological gridlock,” Wolf said. “Some are dead-set against any change to entitlement programs, while others insist that any discussion of tax policy is off the table.”
Wolf said he has concerns “with the other individuals, groups, and causes with whom Mr. Norquist is associated” and he said his distress has “nothing to do with keeping taxes low.”
He took issue with Norquist’s “unsavory” relationships with a supporter of Hamas, his efforts to lobby on behalf of Fannie Mae, and his association with disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who Wolf alleged “essentially laundered money through ATR and Mr. Norquist knew it.”
He also highlighted Norquist’s representation of the Internet gambling industry and his support of moving Guantanamo Bay detainees, included 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, to the United States.
“Mr. Norquist is connected with or has profited from a number of unsavory people and groups out of the mainstream,” Wolf said. “Mr. Norquist, when taken as a whole, should give people pause.”
The other five Republican lawmakers who have not signed it are Reps. Richard Hanna of New York, Todd Platts of Pennsylvania, Rob Wittman of Virginia, Rob Woodall of Georgia and Kevin Yoder of Kansas. A handful of Democrats have signed the anti-tax pledge.
Wolf’s attack on Norquist did not go without notice. By the end of the day Tuesday, Americans for Tax Reform had sent out a press release titled “Frank Wolf Admits He Supports Trillions in Tax Hikes,” and outlining his support for a bipartisan deficit reduction proposal.