Norquist denies he has lost momentum in tax scrap

Coburn himself saw progress in the vote, saying the GOP senators who voted with him believed ending the ethanol credit was more important than their pledge.

But Norquist didn’t see it that way, saying on Wednesday he had commitments from Republican leadership in the Senate to immediately push to bring up a separate amendment from Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) if the Coburn amendment had passed. 

That amendment would have repealed the estate tax and a mandate on the amount of renewable sources that must be in the country’s fuel supply by 2022. A spokesman for Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump blasts McCain, bemoans not getting 'thank you' for funeral GOP senator: Trump's criticism of McCain 'deplorable' McConnell calls McCain a 'rare patriot' and 'American hero' after Trump criticism MORE (R-Ky.), the minority leader, did not return a request for comment.

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ATR had said a vote for both the Coburn and DeMint measures would have been compliant with the pledge and has pointed out several times of late that Coburn said this week that he supported the ethanol mandate.

“Coburn tried. He failed. I’m sure he’ll try again,” Norquist told The Hill, asserting that Coburn had tried to trick his colleagues into voting for a tax increase. “We checkmated him.”

All that said, Republican lawmakers on Wednesday continued to use rhetoric that appeared to contradict ATR’s stance that a tax credit or deduction should only be eliminated if it is offset elsewhere, begging the question of whether GOP lawmakers would be open to getting rid of other tax breaks in a similar manner.

For instance, Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderThe next step for justice reform: Ending the ban on federal Pell Grants for eligible students behind bars Senate GOP poised to go 'nuclear' on Trump picks Overnight Health Care: Survey finds 1 in 10 ration medicines to lower costs | Senate Dems call for hearing on Trump abortion rule | Trump health chief backs needle exchanges | Outgoing FDA chief keeps heat on e-cig maker MORE (R-Tenn.), a member of the GOP leadership, reiterated Wednesday that his ethanol vote was in part for “less federal debt.”

Several GOP senators – and pledge signers – also signaled this week that they voted for the ethanol measure on its own merits and would have done so even if they were not given cover on the pledge by the DeMint amendment, calling the ethanol credit essentially spending in the tax code. 

And several farm-state Republicans who voted for the ethanol credits questioned what they called the contortions Norquist and ATR had gone through to link the DeMint and Coburn measures.

For his part, Norquist said whether or not senators would have voted for the Coburn amendment on its own didn’t matter. “They can have impure thoughts if they want,” he said. 

He added that he had commitments from Senate GOP leadership to not agree to a deal with what he calls a net tax increase: higher rates or ending tax expenditures without an offset.

“Coburn’s going to be out in the cold by his lonesome,” Norquist said. 

For their part, Schumer and Menendez continued to say that any deficit-reduction deal will need to include revenues and called on Republicans who voted with Coburn on ethanol to also support ending tax credits and deductions for the oil-and-gas industry totaling $21 billion over a decade. 

“The dam is officially broken. The knee-jerk, right-wing opposition to getting rid of any taxpayer subsidies is now subsiding,” Schumer said.