Jeb Bush, Grilled on Capitol Hill, Differs from Party on No-Tax Pledge

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush  has risen to the top of the veepstakes list, but today he strayed from his party's policies, in particular pointing out that while running for office in the Sunshine State, he did not sign a no-taxes pledge orchestrated by Grover Norquist of the Americans for Tax Reform.

Bush was testifying on Capitol Hill Friday in front of the House Budget Committee in a wide-ranging and at times temperamental hearing that examined the economy, immigration, education, and the financial and auto bailouts, among other topics. Bush was there to give testimony at a hearing, "Removing the Barriers to Free Enterprise and Economic Growth."

Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the ranking Democrat on the committee, asked Bush if he agreed with Norquist's pledge and he answered, "No."

"I ran for office three times," Bush said. "The pledge was presented to me three times. I never signed the pledge. I cut taxes every year I was governor. I don't believe you outsource your principles and convictions to people. I respect Grover's political involvement. He has it every right to do it, but I never signed any pledge."

The presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney has signed the pledge, endorsing it before he ran for president when he was still governor of Massachusetts in 2006. Veepstakes contenders Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman have also signed the pledged.

According to Americans for Tax Reform, the pledge commits signers to "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."

Bush noted he did not raise taxes during his tenure as governor despite not signing the pledge.

The hearing started tense with Van Hollen telling Bush he "must confess I'm a little surprised that you decided to be here today to criticize the efforts made over the last three years to lift the economy out of the mess that President Obama inherited."

"For eight years President Bush pursued a failed ideology of trickledown economics based on a  theory that tax cuts for the very wealthy and an anything-goes system on Wall Street would boost the economy and lift all boats. Well, it lifted the yachts, but the rest of the boats went aground," Van Hollen said, while Bush forced a tight smile. "By the end of those eight years America experienced a net loss of private sector jobs…. Our nation's fiscal health saw a great reversal in American history from large projected surpluses to large projected deficits."

Van Hollen continued, "Now I've searched the record as far as I can tell in that eight-year period you did not challenge the Bush administration handling of the economy, excessive spending, and rising deficits. Now looking at your testimony…you are here to tell us that government actions have prevented us from the type of snap back economic recovery we have seen in other post war recoveries."

After that uncomfortable welcome, Bush began his testimony by saying, "It's a joy to be here."

"I didn't come to criticize anybody just for the record," Bush said. " I came to share my views. I'm not used to the 9 o'clock food fight that starts bright and early in Washington. I'm from Florida where we don't start that way in life, but it's great to be here."

Bush was invited by Rep. Paul Ryan, who read  a Wall Street Journal editorial written by Bush called "Capitalism and the Right to Rise," which started out quoting Ryan's phrase "right to rise" as  a "core concept of economic freedom." And it was Ryan, who introduced a moment of levity in the brusque hearing. Introducing Rep. Henry Waxman, who arrived late, Ryan told the California Democrat that Van Hollen was just telling the committee how "excited he is that Gov. Bush is with us today," prompting some laughs in the hearing room.

Bush also reacted to the government's disappointing jobs report, calling 69,000 jobs added and a 8.2 percent unemployment rate "anemic at best."

"No one could be satisfied with that. We do have an L-shaped recovery and it's the first since World War II that we have not had a robust recovery," Bush said. "There is a cloud over our country that relates to this growing pessimism that we cannot restore the vitality of our economy in a way that creates opportunities. More and more people are becoming more and more dependent on government at every level because of it."