Runyan, Meehan rethink pledge

Jon Runyan: "This discussion should allow for all ideas."
Jon Runyan: "This discussion should allow for all ideas."

They once vowed with Norquist never to raise taxes, but say that will not rule their decisions on the fiscal cliff.

Posted: November 29, 2012

WASHINGTON - Add two Philadelphia-area Republicans to the list of lawmakers turning away from Grover Norquist's pledge not to raise taxes.

U.S. Reps. Pat Meehan of Pennsylvania and Jon Runyan of New Jersey said Tuesday that they would not be held to the pledge they once signed as members of Congress haggle with President Obama over how to avoid the steep tax hikes and budget cuts due to hit at year's end.

Both Republicans stopped short of saying they would raise any tax rates, but said revenues could be increased by closing loopholes.

"The most important pledge is the one I make to my constituents when I'm sworn in," Meehan said in a statement. "I'm going to do the very best I can to avoid the fiscal cliff and keep our economy strong."

Runyan, also in a statement, said the Norquist pledge "will not be a part of my decision-making process. I firmly believe that this discussion should allow for all ideas to be on the table and open for discussion, including spending cuts, entitlement reform, and increasing revenue."

The congressmen, each of whom just won a second term in a moderate suburban district, joined a growing list of lawmakers who have said they will not be bound by the antitax pledge amid negotiations over how to avoid the fiscal cliff.

"The nation is looking to Washington to put partisanship aside and come up with a compromise," Runyan said.

But while the statements show Meehan and Runyan distancing themselves from Norquist's uncompromising position, there remains a deep divide between their stances and Obama's.

Like other Republicans, they said they still oppose raising tax rates - as Obama has called for on incomes of $250,000 and more - but are open to raising revenue through changes such as closing loopholes and ending or capping some deductions.

Obama and other Democrats have been skeptical of plans that do not include a tax-rate hike on top incomes. Closing loopholes alone will not generate enough revenue to fairly balance the budget, the president's aides have argued.

The debate over those approaches is central to fiscal-cliff negotiations.

Obama's reelection, Republicans have acknowledged, gives him significant leverage to increase taxes, because all the Bush-era tax rates will expire at year's end, deal or not.

Even Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), a staunch conservative who said he is sticking to the Norquist pledge, said revenue increases are almost certain. "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 Tuesday on CNN.

Toomey said he would be open to raising revenues through closing loopholes and capping or killing some deductions. In exchange, he said, he would seek "pro-growth" policies, including lower tax rates and cost cuts in programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

Toomey first made that proposal in July, but his comments gained added attention Tuesday with the increasing focus on Norquist and the fiscal cliff.

"My pledge is not to support higher taxes," he said. "What we're faced with in just a few weeks is a massive tax increase. If I can help ensure that we don't have that tax increase, then I believe I've fulfilled my pledge to fight for the lowest possible taxes."

Toomey, a key GOP voice on fiscal issues, spoke in terms that mirrored a recent Wall Street Journal editorial arguing that Obama's reelection "means taxes for upper-income earners are going up one way or another," and that if Republicans "stop them from going up as much as they otherwise would, then pledge-takers deserve some credit for that."

Runyan and Meehan's comments put them in line with House GOP leaders such as Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who have also endorsed raising revenues but not rates.

"That's what I campaigned on this fall, and it's that promise to my constituents that will guide my efforts," Meehan said.

Said Runyan, "When we talk about revenue increases, it must be done through tax reform and not just simply increasing taxes."

Norquist, president of Washington-based Americans for Tax Reform, keeps a list online that says 258 members of Congress have signed his pledge to oppose "any and all efforts" to raise tax rates. The vow also says any revenue increases generated by eliminating deductions should go toward lowering tax rates.

Runyan and Meehan also distanced themselves from the pledge during debt-reduction talks in 2011.

Norquist, who could not be reached Tuesday for comment, has said he is not worried about lawmakers' recent pronouncements. "They all said this two years ago, when we were arguing over the debt ceiling limit," he told CNN.

Other local congressmen who signed the pledge - including Mike Fitzpatrick and Jim Gerlach, both Pennsylvania Republicans, and Frank LoBiondo, a New Jersey Republican - could not be reached for comment. Rep. Rob Andrews (D., N.J.) has disavowed the pledge.


 

Contact Jonathan Tamari at jtamari@phillynews.com. Read his blog 'CapitolInq' at www.philly.com/CapitolInq.

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