- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2007

The two front-runners for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination — Arizona Sen. John McCain and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani — have not signed an anti-tax-increase pledge that has been embraced by several of their rivals.

The reluctance of the party’s two leading candidates to sign the pledge, which has been signed by every Republican presidential nominee since 1988, raised concerns among conservative tax cutters about Mr. McCain’s and Mr. Giuliani’s commitment to reduce tax rates at a time when all of the Democratic presidential contenders have vowed to raise income taxes if they are elected.

“I can’t imagine that McCain wouldn’t sign it or that Giuliani wouldn’t sign it. I can’t imagine any Republican not signing that,” said Jack Kemp, architect of the tax cuts signed by President Reagan in the 1980s.

The pledge, which asks the candidates to sign a statement declaring they will “oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates,” could become an issue for both men as they vie for the support of their party’s economic conservatives — especially for Mr. McCain who was a foe of President Bush’s tax cuts until he began actively running for president last year.

The Arizona senator, who has been aggressively reaching out to the conservative base of his party to secure the nomination, was one of only two Republicans who voted against Mr. Bush’s $1.35 trillion across-the-board tax cuts in 2001. He also opposed accelerating the tax cuts in 2003, but changed his mind last year and voted to extend the tax cuts, including those on stock dividends and capital gains.

Mr. Giuliani has yet to fully set forth his views on tax policy, but, like Mr. McCain, has said that the Bush tax cuts, most of which are due to expire in 2010, should be made permanent.

“Senator McCain has over a 20-year record of opposing tax increases and the senator’s record speaks for itself,” said Danny Diaz, chief spokesman for the McCain campaign.

“The senator supports making the tax cuts permanent. There has been no stronger voice in Washington, D.C., for fiscal discipline,” Mr. Diaz said.

But when asked if the senator would or would not sign the pledge never to raise tax rates if he should become president, he replied, “no comment.”

A spokesman for Mr. Giuliani yesterday also declined to say whether the former mayor, who leads Mr. McCain in many voter preference polls, intended to sign the pledge.

“Mayor Giuliani has a strong record of cutting taxes” in New York, said Maria Comella, deputy communications director for the Giuliani campaign. When asked directly if he will sign the pledge, she replied, “His record speaks for itself.”

The pledge is a written document that has been circulated among Republican candidates since 1986 by Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), a tax-cut advocacy group that has been an influential force in the tax-cut battles of the past two decades. Every Republican presidential nominee since then has signed it, making it a ritual threshold for candidates to demonstrate their opposition to higher taxes.

Grover Norquist, president of ATR, said yesterday that the pledge has been signed by several Republican presidential contenders, including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, and former Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III.

“In my conversations with each of the campaigns, it is my expectation that before the summer’s out all of the Republicans running for president will have signed the pledge,” Mr. Norquist said last night.

Mr. Romney, who has made his economic conservatism the centerpiece of his campaign, signed the pledge on Dec. 31, a few days before he left the governorship.

Those who have not signed it, besides the two front-runners, include Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel (who has signed previously as a senator) and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

“McCain has signed it in the past and I assume he will sign it again, and I expect Mr. Giuliani to sign it,” Mr. Norquist said.

Some Republican tax cutters expressed dismay yesterday that neither of the two front-runners had signed the pledge at this point in the two-year election cycle.

“I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t sign a statement against raising the tax rates. Someone might not want to bind themselves down to any tax increases, on cigarettes or something like that, but this says tax rates,” Mr. Kemp said.

“I’d sign it, but I’m not running. But the bigger issues are reforming the tax code to make it simpler and more efficient and bringing the tax rates down for maximum economic growth,” he said.

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