Norquist says he won’t punish lawmakers for ‘impure thoughts’ alone

Conservative anti-tax activist Grover Norquist is holding back on punishing GOP lawmakers who have said they are open to raising taxes in a deficit deal.

In an interview with Reuters published Tuesday, the president of Americans for Tax Reform said that he wouldn’t act against Republicans for holding “impure thoughts” alone.

“Thinking something out loud is not treason,” said Norquist, noting that no lawmakers have actually voted yet to raise tax rates.

His comments come as more GOP lawmakers are saying they are willing to consider tax hikes in exchange for entitlement reforms and spending cuts in a deficit-reduction deal to avoid the "fiscal cliff" set to hit next month.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) on Sunday joined the ranks of Republicans open to President Obama’s call to extend the expiring Bush-era tax rates only for the middle-class, allowing rates on the top 2 percent of income-earners to rise.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) have both said they will not be bound by Norquist’s anti-tax pledge, which has been signed by the majority of Republican lawmakers.

“Right now, he has had impure thoughts on tax increases,” said Norquist of Chambliss in the interview. "But nobody has voted for a tax increase."

Despite the growing ranks of dissenters, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) says he is opposed to raising tax rates and has offered a deficit package with $800 billion in new tax revenues that come from closing loopholes and deductions. But the White House insists that any deal must raise rates on the wealthiest taxpayers.

Norquist in the interview said he did not know if Boehner’s offer of new revenues violated the pledge, saying only that the proposal was made “in the context of reducing marginal tax rates and broadening the base ... and economic growth.”

Negotiations resumed this weekend between Boehner and Obama on a package to avoid the tax rate rises and automatic spending cuts poised to take effect in January.

Obama has taken his push for higher taxes on the wealthy outside Washington, making his latest stop at an auto plant in Michigan on Monday. The president has said middle-class families would be hit by an average of $2,200 in new taxes if House Republicans fail to extend the middle-class rates. But GOP leaders insist that the Bush rates be extended across the board in any deal, arguing that a hike for any taxpayers would damage the economy.

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