Rep. Andrews, Norquist butt heads on tax pledge

Rep. Robert Andrews is one of five Democrats in Congress who has signed a pledge not to raise taxes, but the New Jersey lawmaker supports the healthcare reform bill that would do just that.

Andrews, the chairman of the Education and Labor Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions, played a role in crafting the House healthcare bill, which calls for a 5.4 percent tax on people making over $1 million a year. Andrews is one of the original co-sponsors and has appeared at press conferences championing the legislation.

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Andrews said he believes Congress needs to impose new taxes to “raise money [to pay] for healthcare,” noting that he refused to sign the pledge in 2008.

“I ran [in this past election] on the idea of higher taxes on the top 5 percent to pay for healthcare. I explicitly advocated for that and got elected on that,” he added.

Andrews lost a Senate primary last year to Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) but subsequently retained his House seat.

In 1995, Andrews signed a pledge spearheaded by the Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) to “oppose any and all efforts to increase” taxes on individuals or businesses.

ATR contends that the pledge is a binding commitment that lasts for the entire time a policymaker holds office.

“It is like saying that you are pro-life for only two years. You can’t do that,” said ATR President Grover Norquist, who was highly critical of Andrews’s stance. “If you are pro-life, you are pro-life.”

Norquist said that Andrews is showing his “loyalty to the party leadership” and not the people of New Jersey.

Responding to Norquist, Andrews said the economic and political realities of today are not the same as they were in 1995.

“I would be happy to have him come to New Jersey and talk to the people about his blind devotion to George Bush-era policies [of cutting taxes],” Andrews said.

Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), who also signed the ATR pledge, believes the tax provisions in the healthcare reform bill will place additional financial burdens on the country at a time when it is already overburdened.

“We can’t afford the promises that we have already made,” Taylor said. “Between the prescription drug benefit and the Medicare trust fund running out in the next seven years, I don’t think we need to make more promises until we can figure out how we are going to pay for the ones we have already made.”

The three other Democrats who have signed the pledge are Rep. Ben Chandler (Ky.) and Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Arlen Specter (Pa.).

Chandler did not comment for this article.

{mospagebreak}Both Nelson and Specter said they will not be making any decisions on how they will vote on healthcare reform until they see the final legislation and how it is paid for.

Centrist Republicans who helped House Democrats pass climate change legislation last month are cool to the healthcare reform bill introduced in the lower chamber.

Six of the eight Republicans who voted for the cap-and-trade bill have signed the ATR pledge, including Reps. Mark Kirk (Ill.), Leonard Lance (N.J.), Frank LoBiondo (N.J.), Mary Bono Mack (Calif.), Dave Reichert (Wash.) and Chris Smith (N.J.).

Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), who hasn’t signed the ATR pledge, said, “Surtaxes on certain taxpayers which could end up harming small-business owners and taxing employer-sponsored health benefits do not seem prudent.”

Rep. John McHugh (N.Y.), the other Republican backing climate change who has not signed the pledge, did not comment. President Obama nominated McHugh to be secretary of the Army and is awaiting Senate confirmation.

Lance characterized the healthcare bill as a “$1.5 trillion budget-buster.”

LoBiondo’s office said the congressman has no public position on the bill, while staffers for Smith and Kirk did not respond to requests for comment.  Bono Mack characterized the bill as a “government takeover of our healthcare industry.” Reichert suggested the costs associated with the bill will further burden American families who are struggling through a tough economic climate.