House Dem says GOP veterans bill violates Norquist tax pledge

A senior House Democrat on Tuesday argued that a Republican bill to expand jobs training programs for veterans would violate the pledge from Grover Norquist's group that most Republicans have made to their constituents not to raise taxes.

According to House Veterans Affairs Committee Ranking Member Bob Filner (D-Calif.), the bill, H.R. 2433, pays for extended job training by maintaining fees veterans pay through a Veterans' Administration housing program. Those fees were about to fall, and Filner said maintaining them amounts to a tax hike according to the logic of Republicans.

"It says to those who want to buy a home through the VA housing program, that your fees, which were scheduled to go down, will not now go down," Filner said on the House floor. "Now, this refusal to extend a tax decrease has always been described by the party over there as a tax increase, so I will keep your language. You are increasing the taxes on one group of veterans who want to buy homes to pay for this retraining bill, which may not get anybody a job."

Filner added that by approving the bill, Republicans would be breaking their pledge, put forward by Norquist's group Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), not to raise taxes.

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"Now, I know madam speaker you're going to tell Grover Norquist what's going on here, get hold of him right away, because this is violation of the pledge that he is making on all Republicans: do not raise taxes," Filner said. He added that ATR has interpreted the tax pledge in this way.

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) responded by saying that Filner and other Democrats have long supported fee increases to support funding for various programs. Filner said that may be true, but that he never took the Norquist pledge.

Some Republicans have argued in recent months that fee increases, or maintaining current fees, is not the same as a tax hike and thus not covered by the pledge.


ATR responded Tuesday afternoon by saying that Filner is "100 percent wrong" because the Congressional Budget Office says the bill does not raise taxes. "Congressmen can feel free to vote for or against this bill and not take taxes or the Taxpayer Protection Pledge into consideration when making their decision," the group said.

ATR also noted that the Taxpayer Protection Pledge is a commitment members make to their constituents, not any person or group.


The bill, the Veterans Opportunity to Work Act of 2011, would allow access to education and training funds for up to 100,000 unemployed veterans, and boost transition assistance to help departing service-members find jobs. Filner also argued that while job training for veterans is important, the bill may not do enough to ensure these veterans can find jobs in today's market.

"My concern is that this bill will not get veterans hired at all," he said. "It may retrain them, who knows, but they'll have no place to get a job."

Filner did not say specifically that he and other Democrats would oppose the bill, which is being considered under a suspension of House rules. That means a two-thirds majority is needed for passage, which means sizable support from Democrats is needed in the planned Tuesday evening vote.

Filner asked for a recorded vote on the bill in order to force Republicans to record their votes. Minutes later, Filner allowed H.R. 2074, the Veterans Sexual Assault Prevention Act, to be approved by voice vote. The House also approved H.R. 2302, dealing with Veterans Affairs conferences, and H.R. 2349, the Veterans' Benefits Training Improvement Act, both by voice vote.

-- This story was updated at 3:40 p.m. to add other vote results, and again at 4:32 p.m. to add reaction from ATR.