WASHINGTON, D.C. – Americans for Tax Reform, the Washington, D.C.-based tax reform group headed by Grover Norquist, on Thursday blasted Republican congressional candidate for using what they labeled a Democratic playbook to mislead voters about the group’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge.
In a debate on Wednesday, Raye, former President of the state senate, butted heads with former state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin over the ATR pledge, which calls on candidates to promise their constituents that they will not raise taxes.
Both men are competing to fill the 2nd Congressional District seat recently vacated by U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud.
Poliquin has signed the pledge; Raye has not.
And according to ATR, Raye’s reasons for not signing the pledge come “straight out of the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] playbook.”
“With respect to the Grover Norquist pledge Bruce has brought up — You know, I’m troubled that anybody running for office would sign a pledge which permanently – and I would underline permanently – binds them from closing special interest loop-holes, from closing or doing away with special sweetheart deal tax breaks that corporations may have had slipped into the tax code at some point,” Raye said during the debate. “That’s what this pledge does.”
But according to ATR spokesman John Kartch, Democrats have used the same talking points to criticize the pledge, and they’ve been thoroughly debunked by independent fact-checkers.
“His arguments against the Pledge come straight out of the DCCC playbook,” Kartch said in a statement. “To claim the Pledge prevents tax reform or the elimination of any particular deduction and/or credit is simply false. ATR President Grover Norquist created the Pledge in 1985 to help pass the 1986 Tax Reform Act, the most comprehensive tax reform legislation to date.”
“The Pledge prevents politicians from raising taxes by eliminating this-or-that tax preference by itself,” explained Kartch. “Rather, the Pledge tells politicians that such base broadening is acceptable only in the context of tax reform-broaden the base, lower the rates, and don’t raise the net tax burden in the aggregate on American families and employers. A tax preference eliminated today is a tax preference not available for tax reform.”
ATR’s press release also points to Factcheck.org and Politifact, two popular fact-checking websites, which seem to agree that the pledge would not prevent an elected official from closing corporate tax loopholes or eliminating tax preferences.
From Factcheck.org: “More important, it [Taxpayer Protection Pledge] does not rule out an overhaul of the tax code. Signers agree to oppose any “net” reduction of deductions or credits “unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates… That [Pledge] leaves ample room for elimination of any number of special tax breaks so long as the overall level of taxation is not increased. To claim that this “protects” any particular provision of the tax code is simply untrue.”
From Politifact: “The taxpayer pledge doesn’t prevent a signer from opposing any tax break as long as he or she finds a way to offset the resulting increase in taxes.”
ATR also took issue with Raye’s attempt use to Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul “against the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.”
The group, which got its start in the 1980’s, pointed to pro-pledge comments Paul has made in the past, including this coment to Politico: “I’m a huge fan of the pledge. And I think it does hold people’s feet to the fire and they’ve essentially signed their signature and said they’re not going to raise taxes so if they go back on their word, I think they’ll suffer the repercussions in their next election.”
The Republican primary election will take place on June 10.
Raye campaign manager Mike Leavitt responded in writing to ATR: “Much like Senator Tom Coburn [R-Okla.], Kevin believes we need work to close tax loopholes which is a fundamental key to addressing Washington’s spending problem. Coburn talked about Republican’s who have worked to do just this: ‘Those 35 Republican pledge-violators are hardly soft on taxes. Rather, they understand that the tax code is riddled with special-interest provisions that are merely spending by another name.’ ”
“Not only is Bruce beholden to special interest groups, but he has prevented himself from making the fundamental changes needed to fix the debt. Kevin is the only candidate who can make the changes our nation needs. As senate president he reduced his staff budget by 22% and then went on to guide to passage the largest tax cut in Maine history. Kevin has a proven record that he is
proud to take to Washington,” wrote Leavitt.
Norquist isn’t buying Raye’s explanation for not signing the pledge.
“This is the line that Harry Reid uses,” Norquist said in a phone interview. “He’s completely wrong.”
“He’s wrong, and he’s repeating Harry Reid’s propaganda and the DCCC stuff, which even the mainstream press says is nonsense,” he said.
Norquist particularly disputed the suggestion that Coburn or any other Republicans violated the pledge during negotiations over ethanol tax credits, a policy Raye mentioned specifically during Wednesday’s debate.
“The example he gives is dishonest,” said Norquist. “Everybody in D.C. knows it. To call these people pledge-violators is a slander by him on 35 Senators, including guys like [former South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim] DeMint.”
He said that entire affair was an attempt by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to “trick” Republicans into breaking the pledge, but that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kty.) ultimately saw through it and was able to block it by tying the ethanol vote to the elimination of the death tax.
The final package, he said, would have resulted in a net tax decrease, which is why Norquist wrote a letter telling pledge-signers to vote for the ethanol bill so long as they also voted for the elimination of the death tax.
“Everybody should vote for getting rid of the stupid tax credit for ethanol,” Norquist recalled telling Republicans. “And if you want to be consistent with the pledge, there’s a second vote on getting rid of the death taxes.”
Norquist said critics of the pledge, typically liberal Democrats, misinterpret why candidates and elected officials sign it. “People take the pledge because they don’t want to raise taxes,” he said. “They’re not against tax increases because they signed the pledge.
“Here’s why the pledge matters: Even a guy like Coburn got sucked into an imaginary deal,” he said. “But because of the pledge we won trillions in spending reductions – that’s in law, by the way, not a promise. This is binding. This matters.”
“We won the sequester because of the pledge,” he said.
Norquist said that eliminating tax deductions and loopholes is not inconsistent with the pledge, but rather, it ensures that the elimination of such preferences is done in tandem with spending reductions.
“You could never have gotten Republicans to eliminate deductions without ensuring a net tax reduction,” he said. “You never get rid of the special privileges if the money is going to be turned around and spent. Republicans won’t do it.”
“95% of Republicans have signed the pledge. No one has ever had the problem he [Raye] is talking about,” he said.
This story has been updated.
Editor, The Maine Wire