Grover Norquist is hitting back at a Republican senator who is vowing to break the Americans for Tax Reform chief’s famous anti-tax hike pledge if doing so would steer America around the fiscal cliff.
The flap comes just days before Congress returns for a five-week lame duck session, and will put other key Republicans in the spotlight as talks about a massive federal deficit-reduction plan begin in earnest.
“Gang of Six” member Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., told a television station in his home state he has a “fundamental disagreement” with the Norquist-created pledge to never support federal tax hikes that most congressional Republicans have made.
Taking aim at Americans for Tax Reform head Grover Norquist, Chambliss bluntly said: “I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge.
“If we do it his way, then we’ll continue in debt, and I just have a disagreement with him about that,” Chambliss said. “But I don’t worry about that because I care too much about my country. I care a lot more about it than I do Grover Norquist.”
Those remarks brought a lengthy response from Norquist in a statement released Nov. 23.
“Chambliss promised the people of Georgia he would go to Washington and reform government rather than raise taxes to pay for bigger government. He made that commitment in writing to the people of Georgia,” Norquist said.
“If he plans to vote for higher taxes to pay for Obama-sized government he should address the people of Georgia and let them know that he plans to break his promise to them.”
Norquist notes he has endorsed only one plan “that brings the budget [into] balance and pays down the debt without any tax hikes,” — the 2013 House GOP spending plan written by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee.
“Sen. Chambliss voted for the Ryan plan,” Norquist said. “I miss his point in trying to attack me.”
During coming talks about a deficit-reduction plan, lawmakers and President Barack Obama will attempt to find a way to avoid a cliff that could sink the U.S. economy if tax cuts are allowed to expire and twin $500 billion cuts to planned domestic and defense spending kick in Jan. 2.
Economists say a new recession would be sparked if twin $500 billion cuts to planned federal defense and domestic spending occur, and tax cuts are allowed to expire might require breaking the no-tax hikes pledge many Republicans have made. Pentagon officials and conservative lawmakers say the defense cuts would create a “hollow force,” weaken the U.S. defense industrial base and hinder national security.
The Norquist-Chambliss row is the latest piece of evidence about a simmering internal battle within the Republican Party about whether it should bend enough on revenues to strike a deal with Obama and congressional Democrats. Some political pundits warn if congressional Republicans stand firm on the Norquist pledge and drive the nation over the fiscal cliff, voters could punish the party in the 2014 midterm elections.
As lawmakers return for the lame duck session, and a new Congress prepares to begin work in January, a major issue will be whether Republican lawmakers will accept enough revenues to appease enough Democrats and Obama. That means the Norquist pledge will be front-and-center for months to come.