In Washington, up is often down.
No is sometimes yes.
And a pledge isn’t necessarily a pledge.
Grover Norquist, famously the author of a pledge against tax increases that most members of the House of Representatives have signed, reports today that a vote for House Speaker John Boehner’s plan to let tax rates rise for households earning more than $1 million will not violate the Americans for Tax Reform pledge signed by all those lawmakers. Norquist has long maintained that allowing the Bush-era tax cuts to expire is not a violation of his pledge.
While this Plan B note may come as welcome news for Boehner, advancing his so-called “Plan B” tomorrow as a fallback option in the event negotiations fail to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff” of tax increases and spending cuts at year’s end, it’s head-scratching news for any onlooker.
“ATR has consistently maintained that individual Members of Congress make a pledge to their constituents to oppose and vote against tax increases,” reads a statement posted by Ryan Ellis, tax policy director for the organization, at Norquist’s Web-site. “The House this week will vote on a tax bill. This legislation—popularly known as “Plan B”–permanently prevents a tax increase on families making less than $1 million per year.
“Republicans supporting this bill are this week affirming to their constituents in writing that this bill — the sole purpose of which is to prevent tax increases — is consistent with the pledge they made to them. In ATR’s analysis, it is extremely difficult — if not impossible—to fault these Republicans’ assertion.
“In particular, in this Congress the House has already voted twice to prevent any tax increases on any American. When viewed with this in mind, and considering this tax bill contains no tax increases of any kind — in fact, it permanently prevents them — matters become more clear. Having finally seen actual legislation in writing, ATR is now able to make its determination about a legislative proposal related to the fiscal cliff. ATR will not consider a vote for this measure a violation of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.”
It may be great cover for Boehner, working to rally the votes needed for his fallback.
And, in allowing tax rates for the highest earners to lapse to pre-George W. Bush levels — which is what Plan B would do for that $1 million-plus crowd — the argument may be made, as Norquist has, that this is not really a tax increase.
Still, that pledge signed by 238 members of the House and 41 in the Senate says they will “oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate for individuals and business.”
The expiration of the Bush tax cuts, combined with Plan B, raises the top income tax rate from 35 to 39.6 percent.
It’s true that both Boehner’s plan and the president’s proposal to protect households earning less than $250,000 a year — or $400,000 a year, as he has offered in talks with the speaker — hold the vast majority of Americans harmless from income tax increases.
Yet ask anyone earning more than $1 million a year who has paid Bush-era tax rates since 2001 and 2003 what they think of the endorsement from camp Norquist today.