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Are cracks beginning to form in GOP's bedrock antitax pledge?

With the bipartisan 'super committee' under the gun to cut the deficit, some GOP lawmakers are rethinking parts of the antitax pledge pushed by Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform.

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Speaker Boehner fields questions about the Norquist pledge at nearly every public appearance. At a press briefing on Nov. 3, he said, to laughter: “It’s not often I’m asked about some random person and what I think.”

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“Our focus is on creating jobs, not talking about somebody’s personality,” he added. “Our conference is opposed to tax hikes because we believe that tax hikes will hurt our economy and put Americans out of work.”

But what is a tax hike? Is it raising rates on the wealthiest Americans? Apparently, yes. Is it also a tax hike to end a tax break without at the same time passing new tax cuts, as mandated by the pledge? Right now, that’s not so clear.

“Republicans, including Speaker Boehner, have been clear that they are not opposed to increased revenue as a result of tax reforms that lead to economic growth,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel, in an email on Nov. 7.

In that view, it could be possible to use reforms in the tax code, such as ending tax breaks, to in part lower tax rates and also increase net government revenue – a technical violation of the pledge, but possible bipartisan breakthrough on a path to cutting the deficit.

Republicans aren’t the only ones grappling with the strictures of the pledge. Rep. Rob Andrews of New Jersey, one of only two Democrats to have signed the taxpayer protection pledge, says he has asked ATR to remove his name from the list of supporters.

“I signed the pledge in 1992, and I understood it to mean that for the next term, if I were reelected, I would not vote to raise taxes,” he says. “I honored that pledge.”

“But I never renewed it,” he adds. “I never considered it to be like my marriage vows, I’m married to Camille Andrews not Grover Norquist. I  promised her to be faithful until death do us part, and I mean it. I did not promise him to oppose tax increases until death do us part.”

Meanwhile, Norquist's position has not changed. The pledge, he says, is not to ATR or to him, personally. It’s from lawmakers to their constituents. Responding to sharp criticism from Senate majority leader Harry Reid, Norquist tweeted on Nov. 1. “Hey Harry Reid: if I became a Buddhist monk and moved to Himalayas no pledge taker would help you raise taxes. They promised their voters.”

Norquist dismisses the notion that the antitax pledge is temporary.

“The pledge is as good as long as you are in the same office,” says Norquist. “There’s no time limit on that.  Imagine saying you are pro-life or pro-gun for the next two years. That doesn’t pass the laugh test.”

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