Here’s one example of how Grover Norquist’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge boxes in Republican members, even on issues near and dear to the GOP base.
The details here were first reported by Inside Health Policy but it illustrates a point Republicans on the deficit Super Committee are all too familiar with. Starting in 2014, the health care law will automatically start providing tax credits for individual market health care policies — the subsidies that will help uninsured people buy coverage.
Republicans want to stop the money from going out before it starts, so they’ve introduced legislation to repeal the subsidies. Except, since these are tax credits and not direct spending, repealing them could count as a tax increase as far as the taxpayer protection pledge is concerned.
At a Tuesday meeting Norquist’s top tax guy Ryan Ellis and aides to Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT) — the chair of the House Appropriations Health Subcommittee — met to chew this over. Now Ellis is writing to clarify that Norquist’s group Americans for Tax Reform hasn’t taken a position on the issue yet.
“In my capacity as Tax Policy Director at Americans for Tax Reform, I met yesterday with members of Congressman Rehberg’s staff to discuss their bill,” Ellis acknowledged. “As with any legislation that impacts the tax code, I was interested to confirm that the bill would not score out as a net tax increase. Congressman Rehberg’s staff told me that while they do not have a score from CBO or JCT, they are confident that their bill will not score out as a net tax increase. Should they be supervised by a score, they committed to improving the bill to ensure that no net tax increase occurs…. Given that ATR does not pre-judge this latter question before a score is obtained, ATR has no issues with H.R. 3243. Reports that we did were premature at best and irresponsible journalism at worst.”
Repealing the whole law would obviously score as a big tax cut (even though it would also score as a significant deficit booster). But focusing on the subsidies on their own might require fancy footwork by Republicans, Norquist, or both.
Republicans on the Super Committee are struggling with a similar issue. Though they’ve refused to raise tax rates they’ve largely conceded that new tax revenues will have to be part of the broader package. To square this, they’re eying credits, deductions and other “spending in the tax code” for elimination. But that’s a no-no as far as Norquist is concerned. Yesterday he chided Republican lawmakers for even considering such a breach of the pledge. And perhaps he’ll prevail — but as Democrats have made clear, that’s a recipe for Super Committee failure.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.