Norquist confident Romney won’t flip despite pressure over 'Buffett Rule'

Grover Norquist says he is confident Mitt Romney will firmly reject the Democrats’ “Buffett Rule.”

Norquist, president of the conservative advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform, dismissed predictions by Senate Democratic leaders that Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, will pressure Senate Republicans to move to the center on tax policy.

Some conservatives have voiced concerns that Romney may run to the center after clinching the GOP nomination, a worry fueled by a Romney strategist’s comparison of the candidate’s campaign platform to an Etch A Sketch.

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Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the third-ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership, said last week Democrats have a good chance of passing the Buffett Rule because Romney is vulnerable on the issue.

But Norquist voiced confidence that there’s not a chance the presumptive GOP presidential nominee will back away from the tax pledge, which binds office holders to “oppose any and all efforts” to increase the marginal income tax rate.

“He has basically endorsed the Ryan plan,” Norquist said in reference to the House GOP budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), which would lower the top individual tax rate to 25 percent. “He’s signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, so he’s put in writing that he would never do this.

“And what House of Representatives would allow him to and what Republican Senate would allow him to? This is not going to be an option,” Norquist added.

Democrats this week are mounting an intense public relations bid to draw attention to the Buffett Rule, which was inspired by billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s statement that his secretary pays a higher tax rate than he does.

The effort will culminate in remarks Tuesday by President Obama in Florida.

The White House has made it clear it thinks Romney is vulnerable on the issue, and Schumer said it would be difficult for Romney to oppose the Buffett Rule because he benefits from current law, which allowed him to pay a 13.9-percent tax rate on $21.6 million of income in 2010.

Schumer said Democrats would repeatedly vote on the Buffett Rule this year to ramp up pressure on Republicans.

“We're going to keep pushing this issue all year long," Schumer told reporters Thursday. "It's an emerging contrast with Republicans.”

Democrats believe Romney will have to defy Republican Party orthodoxy on tax policy to help his standing among independent swing-state voters

“This is one of his weakest areas and his biggest vulnerability because he’s a living, breathing example of someone who pays a lower tax rate than middle-income households,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide. “He’s going to try to find some way to muddy waters and come out in support of something that looks like some version of the Buffett Rule.”

Democrats say this will push Republican senators to vote for higher taxes on millionaires.

The senior Democratic aide said a shift by Romney would “signify to rank-and-file members on the Hill that it’s okay to vote for some version of the Buffett Rule.”

Democrats cite several data points to argue the Republican resolve against raising taxes on millionaires is softening.

A CBS News/New York Times poll in January found 52 percent of Americans think capital gains and dividend earnings should be taxed at the same rate as common earned income.

Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), a prominent centrist, voted in December for a motion to proceed to a Democratic bill extending the payroll tax holiday funded by a surtax on millionaires.

Rep. Rick Crawford, a Republican freshman from Arkansas, has floated a plan to impose a temporary 5 percent surtax on millionaires. He has linked it to congressional passage of a balanced-budget amendment.

Norquist said he has since spoken to Crawford about the plan, which would violate Americans for Tax Reform’s pledge.

“Rick Crawford thinks he’s jamming the Democrats. He said, ‘Grover, they’ll be exposed as such hypocrites because they won’t go for the balanced-budget amendment even though they say the reason they want to raise taxes on rich people is to balance the budget,' " Norquist said. “He’s not doing this because he wants to raise taxes on rich people or he thinks this is a popular position. He thinks he is embarrassing the Democrats.”

A spokesman for Crawford did not respond to a request for comment.

The Senate will vote April 16 on a motion to proceed to the Buffett Rule.

It would impose a 30 percent tax floor on households earning $2 million or more per year. The tax would be similar to the Alternative Minimum Tax in that it would ensure millionaires pay tax rates comparable to middle-class families. It would be indexed to inflation to prevent middle-class families from having to pay higher rates in future years, according to a congressional aide.

The tax would be phased in for households earning between $1 million and $2 million. This is intended to dissuade income earners from manipulating their income to just below the $1 million threshold to avoid a dramatic jump in federal taxes.

Under tax legislation set to sunset at the end of the year, the highest tax rate for ordinary income is 35 percent. It applies to families earning more than $388,350.