GOP Rep. Wolf rips Norquist, tax pledge

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) on Tuesday ripped the Grover Norquist tax pledge and the tax activist himself. 

Wolf criticized Norquist's pledge, which most Republicans have taken in promising to not raise taxes, and said Norquist had used it to advance other issues he said most voters would oppose. 

He also slammed the conservative for profiting from "unsavory people" and questioned Norquist's background. 

"Simply put, I believe Mr. Norquist is connected with and has profited from a number of unsavory people and groups out of the mainstream," Wolf, who has not taken Norquist's pledge, said on the House floor. "I also believe that Mr. Norquist has used the ATR pledge as leverage to advance many other issues that many Americans would find inappropriate, and when taken as a whole should give people pause."

The pledge was put forward by Norquist's group, Americans for Tax Reform, and commits those who sign it to oppose all tax increases, as well as the elimination of tax deductions unless they are offset by corresponding tax rate reductions.

A clip of Wolf speaking on the House floor can be seen here (he starts shortly after Rep. Jim McGovern):

Norquist dismissed the criticism, calling the allegations “beneath him.” He also branded Wolf’s speech a “hissy fit” and a “compilation of whack job criticisms."

Wolf is one of just six House Republicans in the 112th Congress who have not signed the pledge. Others are Reps. Richard Hanna (N.Y.), Todd Platts (Pa.), Rob Wittman (Va.), Rob Woodall (Ga.) and Kevin Yoder (Kan.).

Wolf started by questioning Norquist's association with disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. 

"Mr. Abramoff essentially laundered money through ATR, and Mr. Norquist knew it," Wolf said.

Wolf also charged that Norquist is associated with two terrorist financiers, and said he had lobbied for mortgage giant Fannie Mae and Internet gambling companies. Wolf added that Norquist has also worked to move the Guantánamo Bay terrorist detainees to the United States.

The Virginia Republican said Washington Republicans should not be held to account by Norquist, given this background, and said the tax pledge is hindering the ability of Congress to find solutions to the federal deficit crisis.

Wolf said that earlier this year, when Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) sought to eliminate an ethanol tax subsidy, Norquist led the opposition to this change.

However, ATR earlier this summer said it actually supported Coburn's amendment, along with an amendment from Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). Coburn's amendment would have ended the ethanol tax credit for one year, but left the underlying ethanol credit in place beyond that.

DeMint's amendment would have ended the ethanol credit completely, and ATR said at the time that the two amendments together would have helped end a policy that has "skewed America's energy market and crippled the industry making it reliant on federal handouts."

Nonetheless, Wolf said Norquist's pledge exerts too much control over the ongoing tax debate.

"Everything must be on the table, and I believe how the pledge is interpreted and enforced by Mr. Norquist is a roadblock to realistically reforming our tax code," Wolf said. "Have we really reached the point where one person's demand for ideological purity is paralyzing Congress to the point that even a discussion of tax reform is viewed as breaking a no-tax pledge?"

At the same time, Wolf stressed that he is in no way opposed to the goal of the tax pledge.

"I want to be perfectly clear: I do not support raising taxes on the American people," Wolf said at the start of his remarks. Instead, he said, his concern is with the Norquist group's association with others that have "nothing to do with keeping taxes low."

—This story was updated at 10:40 a.m. and again at 12:45 p.m. to clarify ATR's position on the ethanol tax credit.

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