Pennsylvania’s Republican congressmen appear likely to stick with their anti-tax pledge, though many experts consider that vow an impediment to negotiating a deal with the White House to avoid sharp tax hikes and budget cuts at year’s end.
Even Sen. Bob Casey Jr., a Scranton Democrat and ally of President Obama, said he does not take lightly the option of raising taxes — although he didn’t sign a pledge.
“Raising taxes is always difficult,” Casey said on Wednesday. As chairman of the Joint Economic Committee, Casey has scheduled a Dec. 6 hearing to listen to experts from opposing sides.
Some prominent Republicans have indicated they won’t hold to their pledge made to Americans for Tax Reform, a group led by lobbyist Grover Norquist. Eleven of the 12 GOP House members from Pennsylvania signed it during their careers — the exception is retiring Rep. Todd Platts of York — and none is backing away.
“Those suggesting that raising taxes on higher-income earners and small-business owners will fix our debt problem are ignorant of the economic and fiscal challenges we face,” said Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson, of Howard in Centre County. “The economy simply can’t afford the threat of higher tax rates, which endangers investment possibilities, growth incentives and American jobs.”
Congressman-elect Keith Rothfus of Sewickley did not sign the Norquist pledge, but spokesman Jon Raso said Rothfus made his own vow against raising taxes. He won’t be sworn in until after Congress debates the budget and debt problems.
Rep. Mike Kelly of Butler, who took office in 2010 at the height of the Tea Party movement that backed candidates who promised to keep taxes low, said through spokeswoman Julia Thornton that he made clear his position during his successful re-election campaign.
“We do not have to raise tax rates to raise revenues,” Thornton said, noting that Kelly instead “is committed to raising revenues through comprehensive tax and government reform that works to spur growth, create certainty and reduce our nation’s trillion-dollar deficits.”
Rep. Tim Murphy of Upper St. Clair signed the no-tax pledge in 2002 and will stick with it, said his chief of staff, Susan Mosychuk.
As the nation teeters on the edge of a fiscal cliff, few Americans likely care about the pledge many lawmakers made years ago, said Charlie Gerow, a Harrisburg-based Republican consultant.
“Outside of the political chattering class, I don’t know if that matters to the average voters if you keep a tax pledge,” Gerow said. “For example, look at all of the elected officials who broke term-limit pledges over the years without any consequences.”
Gerow believes people would prefer compromise among partisan Washington lawmakers, “but that compromise has to be centered on holding onto their principles.
“I think it is going to be interesting to see if Republicans can craft ways to ‘enhance revenues’ without raising the marginal tax rates,” he said.
Obama and Democratic leaders have been critical of plans that do not include a higher tax rate for wealthier Americans. Obama has argued that simply closing loopholes in the tax laws won’t generate sufficient money to balance the budget.
On Wednesday, at a campaign-style event at the White House, Obama assembled what administration organizers described as “middle-class workers” to urge people to call, email or tweet members of Congress to press for immediate passage of his plan. It would extend tax cuts for most Americans but allow rates on the wealthiest 2 percent to increase to 1990 levels.
“Let’s begin our work with where we agree,” Obama said, adding that the Senate passed the measure and members of both parties want to hold down rates for most taxpayers. “If we can get a few House Republicans to agree as well, I’ll sign this bill as soon as the House sends it my way.”
Sen. Pat Toomey, a Lehigh Valley conservative, said Tuesday on CNN that although revenue increases are almost certain, he intends to stick to his no-tax pledge.
“If we’re going to have to have some revenue increase, which this president seems determined to do, I would hope that we could at least do it in a way that does the least economic harm,” Toomey said.
A rift among House Republicans emerged on Wednesday when Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma said he and others would support the Senate measure. House Speaker John Boehner instantly put a halt to Cole’s call for the lower chamber to support the proposal, and Boehner’s aides said he has no plan to bring the Senate proposal to a floor vote.
Salena Zito is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at [email protected].