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Pledge is on the line
Griffith to look at each hike

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Neither 5th District U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt nor 9th District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith has indicated he would join a number of congressional Republicans who have recently said they might violate a no-tax pledge in order to avoid the fiscal cliff.

On Dec. 31, a combination of expiring tax cuts and across-the-board government spending cuts are scheduled to become effective if no budget agreement is reached. That constitutes sequestration, and it is being called the fiscal cliff because it would have a detrimental effect on an already shaky economy, officials have said.

Neither Hurt, R-Chatham, nor Griffith, R-Salem, could be reached Monday, but spokeswomen for them sent emails. Both Hurt and Griffith signed the no-tax pledge for the 113th Congress, according to the Americans for Tax Reform website.

The Taxpayer Protection Pledge for the House of Representatives says: “I ... pledge to the taxpayers of the ... district of the state ... and to the American people that I will: ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”

Genevieve Villari, spokeswoman for Hurt, stated in an email Monday: “Congressman Hurt’s first priority is adopting policies that will make it easier for 5th District Virginians to succeed — and that includes keeping taxes low for all Americans. At a time when places in the 5th District, like Martinsville and Henry County, have unacceptably high unemployment, raising taxes will only further damage our local economy and destroy jobs. The House of Representatives has acted to avoid the fiscal cliff, and it is Congressman Hurt’s hope that the Senate and the White House will join with the House to find bipartisan solutions to address these great challenges that we face.”

In an interview with the Bulletin in October, Hurt said he did not favor raising taxes on anyone and that the Bush tax cuts should be made permanent. Hurt said legislators should be fixing Medicare “instead of … using it as a political football to scare seniors.”

At the same time, “none of this will work unless we have a robust economy,” Hurt said then. He said the American people should demand steps be taken to avoid sequestration, the looming automatic budget cuts that are expected to have a major impact on Virginia and the rest of the nation. But, he said then, it is possible the issue will be pushed into the next Congress to handle.

Andie Pivarunas, spokeswoman for Griffith, wrote in an email Monday: “Congressman Griffith, who as you know reads the bills he votes for and makes independent decisions on those bills, will be returning to Washington, D.C. (Tuesday). We will be sure to keep you in the loop as we learn more about what the next several weeks will look like.”

Pivarunas sent an email Tuesday with this statement from Griffith: “I have always been of the view that higher taxes hurt the economy. We have a spending problem — not a taxing problem. Before I arrived in Congress, the Bush-era tax cuts were agreed to, but only for a limited period of time. That time was extended for two years by the 111th Congress before I was sworn in because, in the words of President Obama, ‘You don’t raise taxes in a recession.’

“While we may not technically be in a recession currently, the economy is very sluggish, and we may return to a recession. On Jan. 1, the American people are facing a massive tax increase if nothing is done about the so-called fiscal cliff. I will review each bill on its own merits in an attempt to find the best possible solution for the people of America, Virginia, and — most importantly — the 9th District of Virginia.”

In an interview in October, Griffith said he continued to believe that there should be no new taxes.

Congress must find a solution to prevent sequestration because it would affect everybody, he said at the time. “I was in the minority. I did not vote for sequestration,” he said.

He said that the House had sent two proposals to the Senate to reduce the deficit and avoid sequestration, but the Senate had not responded.

He said he did not know at what point he would vote to avoid the fiscal cliff.

According to The Associated Press, several senior Republicans are breaking ranks with the no-tax pledge, willing to consider raising more money through taxes as part of a deal with Democrats to avoid a catastrophic budget meltdown.

According to the AP, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker said the only pledge he will keep is his oath of office. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said no one in his home state of Virginia is talking about what leaders in Washington refer to simply as “The Pledge,” a (Grover) Norquist invention that dates to 1986. Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss said he cares more about his country than sticking to Norquist’s pledge.

Norquist, the head of the conservative Americans for Tax Reform, opposes tax increases of any kind, whether eliminating deductions, a position some GOP lawmakers say they’re open to, or raising rates. His pledge doesn’t allow any change to the tax code that adds a dollar to revenues, the AP reported.

House Speaker John Boehner has called that notion unrealistic and has dismissed Norquist as “some random person,” the AP reported.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” “I agree with Grover; we shouldn’t raise rates. But I think Grover is wrong when it comes to we can’t cap deductions and buy down debt,” the AP reported. “I will violate the pledge — long story short — for the good of the country, only if Democrats will do entitlement reform,” he added.

Rep. Peter King of New York told Sunday’s “Meet the Press” on NBC that the pledge is good for a two-year term only, the AP reported.

It reported that Sen. John McCain, Republican presidential nominee in 2008, told an audience recently, “Fewer and fewer people are signing this, quote, pledge.”

The AP reported that Norquist said Monday, “Nobody’s turning on me,” but he indicated he would turn on lawmakers who defy him.


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