By Alexander Bolton - 07/21/12 05:00 PM EDT
Conservative anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist says the 20 Senate Democrats facing re-election in 2014 will be the “hostages” who will ensure that President Obama does not raise the Bush-era tax rates.
Democrats have been talking tough in recent days about drawing a hard line on extending the Bush tax rates only for families making below $250,000.
Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), the Democratic co-chairman of the 2011 deficit-reduction supercommittee, said Monday that Democrats would let income tax rates rise across the board if Republicans refuse to drop their opposition to raising new taxes. Senate Democratic leaders have endorsed her declaration.
“Last time Republicans won the House and [were] a little strengthened in the Senate and Obama folded completely. We’re going to be stronger this time than after last time; our hostages are the 20 Democrats up in ’14. We’ll send them either piece by piece or one at a time over to the White House to negotiate,” Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and author of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, told The Hill in an interview.
The Bush tax cuts are due to expire at the end of the year and while the Senate will vote this week on competing proposals to extend the rates for families earning under $250,000 or to extend all the rates, nothing is expected to become law until after the election.
A similar scenario played out in 2010 when Democrats insisted they would not extend the tax cuts for the nation’s wealthiest families. They softened their stance during the lame-duck session after Republicans picked up a mass of seats in the midterm election.
Lawmakers expect to decide whether to pass another extension this December and the Bush tax cuts could be the first significant vote of the 2014 cycle.
Democrats argue they will be in a stronger position to negotiate. In 2010, Obama wanted to avoid the prospect of raising taxes before his re-election and Democratic lawmakers acquiesced to a deal he struck with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to extend the rates for all incomes.
They think Obama will drive a harder bargain this fall because he does not have to worry about winning a second term.
Norquist argues the roles will be reversed this year. He predicts endangered Senate Democrats will put pressure on Obama not to let all the income tax rates expire.
“The Democrats in the House and Senate went along with saving Obama by giving a two-year extension to the Bush tax cuts in ’10. That was to save Obama,” he said. “They were playing team ball to help Obama across the finish line, now it’s Obama’s turn,” he said.
Senate Democrats face an election map in 2014 that appears more challenging than the 2012 map.
Twenty Democratic senators are up for re-election in two years compared to only 13 Republicans. Many of those Democrats face tough races while the most vulnerable Republican is McConnell, who is running in a state where Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) captured 57-percent of the vote in the 2008 presidential election.
Threatened Democrats in 2014 include Sens. Mark Begich (Alaska), Al Franken (Minn.), Tim Johnson (S.D.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), John Rockefeller (W.Va.) and Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.).
Other Democrats are running in Republican-leaning states — Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.) and Mary Landrieu (La.) — or swing states — Sens. Kay Hagan (N.C.) and Mark Warner (Va.).
Senate Republicans, by contrast, face relatively easy re-elections in 2014. Only Sen. Susan Collins, a third-term incumbent who won 61 percent of the vote in 2008, represents a state Obama carried.
This year, Democrats have many seats to defend in conservative-leaning states but they also have a chance to win GOP-held seats in Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada and Arizona.
Norquist and other Republican strategists believe Senate Democrats could see dramatic losses in the next midterm election if Obama allows tax rates to expire.
While some Democratic lawmakers privately question whether the president is a team player, Norquist believes senior advisors will keep the party’s interests at the forefront of his attention.
“The guys around him won’t let him crash the whole thing,” said Norquist.