- The Washington Times - Monday, September 19, 2011

President Obama, pushed by some in his party to take a harder line on the deficit-reduction negotiations, took aim Monday at an anti-tax pledge supported by most congressional Republicans.

The president, during a White House Rose Garden speech, suggested the Americans for Tax Reform’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” was a significant impediment in the struggle to lower the nation’s debt and deficit.

While he didn’t mention the group or pledge by name, Mr. Obama said that “anyone who has signed some pledge to protect every single tax loophole so long as they live they should be called out.”

“They should have to defend that unfairness,” he said. “Explain why somebody who’s making $50 million a year in the financial markets should be paying 15 percent on their taxes when a teacher making $50,000 a year is paying more than that, paying a higher rate?”

The president then added: “The last time I checked, the only pledge that really matters is the pledge we take to uphold the Constitution.”

Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist said Mr. Obama was using his pledge as a “straw man” to divert attention from his unpopular tax-increase polices.

“He’s not going to get what he wants, so what you saw was a guy having a hissy fit stamp his feet and then misstate what the pledge is,” he said.

Mr. Norquist said the president “lied” when he suggested the pledge opposed the closing of all tax loopholes. Lawmakers who have signed the document have promised to “oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”

Signers also pledge to “oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate for individuals and business.”

“He can hardly say, ‘I know we had an election and everybody voted to let Congress stop raising taxes, but I don’t care, and I want you to raise taxes,’ ” he said. “That would not be as strong a speech as, ‘Grover is icky’ and ‘You shouldn’t promise things to Grover.’”

All but six of the 242 House Republicans have signed the pledge, while 40 of the 47 Senate Republicans have done so. Only three Democrats in Congress — two in the House and one in the Senate — have signed the document.

All six Republicans on the congressional deficit reduction “supercommittee” signed the pledge, while none of the six Democrats signed it.

Mr. Obama’s decision to take on Mr. Norquist’s anti-tax pledge may have been a smart move.

“As a negotiating approach it is a wise move, because you’re not getting anywhere with the other approach,” said Norman J. Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative-leaning Washington think tank.

Several bipartisan deficit reduction groups on and off Capitol Hill in recent years also have suggested a mix of tax increases and spending cuts as the only way to seriously cut the debt and deficit.

“So calling out the pledge signers and kind of pushing that issue to make them come up with much more detail about how you can do it without [tax increases], without using smoke and mirrors … probably is not a bad move,” Mr. Ornstein said.

The president isn’t the only political leader to raise the level of partisan rhetoric on the deficit reduction debate. House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, last week ruled out tax increases as an option for the deficit supercommittee. Yet several weeks earlier the Ohio Republican and the president reportedly had agreed to an $800 billion in increased revenue as part of a plan to trim the deficit.

“Translation: today’s proposals [by Mr. Obama] will not become law,” wrote the William A. Galston of the Brookings Institution on the liberal-leaning Washington think tank’s website Monday. “They stake out a bargaining position and announce a platform for the president’s re-election campaign.”

Meanwhile, the supercommittee faces a late-November deadline to identify at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions.

“Nothing that either side has said in the past week makes the committee’s job any easier, and the clock is ticking,” Mr. Galston said.

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