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GOP fealty to ‘no new taxes’ pledge slipping

Could be dropped for debt reduction, entitlement reform

Trying to signal a good-faith commitment to the ongoing "fiscal cliff" debt negotiations, some prominent Republicans increasingly are indicating a willingness to walk away from Grover Norquist's influential "no new taxes" pledge, saying that even if they signed it, they no longer feel bound by it.

Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, saidMonday he is "not obligated" to stick to the Americans for Tax Reform pledge — the Norquist brainchild signed by almost every Republican and even a few Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Corker joins a number of high-profile Republicans, including Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Rep. Peter T. King of New York, who have talked publicly of abandoning the pledge if Democrats will get serious about entitlement reforms in the tense negotiations aimed at averting the automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect at the end of this year.

Even House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, dodged an opportunity Monday to defend the Norquist pledge, which since its inception in the mid-1980s has become an unofficial part of Republican orthodoxy.

Mr. Norquist shrugged off the notion Monday that Republicans will break their vows on taxes.

"Some of them have engaged [in] impure thoughts," Mr. Norquist said during an appearance on Fox's "Your World." "They haven't actually voted for a tax increase."

Mr. Norquist said lawmakers who go along with Democrats' demands for higher taxes will have to answer to voters and history has plenty of examples of what happens when elected leaders, especially Republicans, support higher taxes.

"We could ask President Bush — George Herbert Walker Bush — how his second term went after he broke his pledge," the anti-tax crusader said, alluding to Mr. Bush's decision to backtrack from his infamous 1988 pledge, "Read my lips: no new taxes."

Democrats, meanwhile, say that the Norquist pledge has bogged down deficit talks in the past and continues to be a hurdle in the ongoing budget talks.

White House Spokesman Jay Carney welcomed the news Monday that some Republicans are rethinking the pledge.

"They represent what we hope is a difference in tone and approach to these problems and a recognition that a balanced approach to deficit reduction is the right approach," Mr. Carney said, alluding to the Democratic push to raise taxes on families making $250,000 or more a year and use the additional money to pay down the deficit. "It's the one that's most beneficial for our economy; it's the one that protects the middle class and strengthens it and creates ladders of opportunity for those who would — who aspire to the middle class to get there."

The Democratic Policy and Communications Center also joyfully blasted out an email that highlighted the comments of Mr. Corker and others and cast Mr. Norquist as a contender for winning the "Worst Week in Washington" award.

Democrats — citing Mr. Obama's re-election, Democratic pickups in the House and an expanded Democratic majority in the Senate — have doubled down on their calls to raise new revenue through higher taxes on the nation's top earners.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, meanwhile, has floated the notion that he is open to accepting new revenue in a debt deal if it is used to pay down the nation's $16 trillion deficit.

But the Ohio Republican has said he opposes higher marginal tax rates and instead supports reducing deductions in the tax code.

For his part, Mr. Norquist said Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and Mr. Cantor support stronger economic growth, not tax increases.

Asked Monday during an appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" whether he still stands by the pledge, Mr. Cantor ducked. "There's a lot that has been said about this pledge, and I will tell you when I go to the constituents that have elected, re-elected me, it is not about that pledge. It really is about trying to solve problems," Mr. Cantor said.

The remarks came a week after Mr. Chambliss told a Georgia television station, "I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge."

Mr. Graham and Mr. King also broke with Mr. Norquist over the weekend.

"I agree entirely with Saxby Chambliss," Mr. King said. "A pledge you signed 20 years ago, 18 years ago, is for that Congress. For instance, if I were in Congress in 1941, I would have signed the — I was for the declaration of war against Japan. I'm not going to attack Japan today. The world has changed, and the economic situation is different."

Mr. Norquist countered that the pledge covers a lawmaker's entire time in Congress.

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