It's rare to see a Washington Republican go after Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, who tends to enforce ideological conformity by having GOP lawmakers and presidential candidates sign his group's pledge against raising taxes.
But that happened on the House floor Tuesday when Rep. Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican, said his conscience led him to warn his colleagues that Norquist shouldn't be dictating the nation's fiscal policy, especially considering Norquist's past activities and connections which Wolf said were troubling.
Wolf mentioned Norquist's association with convicted former lobbyist Jack Abramoff who served time in federal prison for mail fraud and conspiracy. Abramoff allegedly funneled his client's money through ATR and another Norquist-linked organization to other groups that were on the same side of a gambling issue as the disgraced lobbyist's client.
Wolf cited other associations and activities from Norquist's past the congressman found troubling. An excerpt:
Simply put, I believe Mr. Norquist is connected with or has profited from a number of unsavory people and groups out of the mainstream.
I also believe Mr. Norquist has used the ATR "pledge" as leverage to advance other issues many Americans would find inappropriate, and when taken as a whole, should give people pause.
I raise these concerns today in the context of dealing with the future of our country. America is in trouble. Unemployment is over 9 percent. Housing values continue to decline. Retirement accounts are threatened. The American people are worried. Yet, Washington is tragically shackled in ideological gridlock.
Some are dead-set against any change to entitlement programs, while others insist that any discussion of tax policy is off the table.
We are at a point today that the tsunami of debt in America demands that every piece of the budget be scrutinized – and that means more than just cutting waste, fraud and abuse and discretionary programs.
The real runaway spending is occurring in our out-of-control entitlement costs and the hundreds of billions in annual tax earmarks in our tax code. Until we reach an agreement that addresses these two drivers of our deficit and debts, we cannot right our fiscal ship of state.
Everything must be on the table and I believe how the "pledge" is interpreted and enforced by Mr. Norquist is a roadblock to realistically reforming our tax code.
When Senator Tom Coburn recently called for eliminating the special interest ethanol tax subsidy, who led the opposition? Mr. Norquist.
The Hill had this reaction from Norquist:
Norquist dismissed the criticism, calling the allegations "beneath him." He also branded Wolf's speech a "hissy fit" and a "compilation of whack job criticisms."
And on the ATR website, Wolf was attacked for allegedly wanting trillions of dollars in new taxes. An excerpt:
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) is one of only six Republican members of the U.S. House who has failed to sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge to his constituents. In his remarks submitted to the Congressional Record today, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) confirmed that he supports the recommendations of President Obama's Bowles-Simpson commission, a net tax increase of $1-3 trillion over ten years.
Wolf anticipated this attack in his statement:
My issue is not with ATR's goal of keeping taxes low.
Like Ronald Reagan said, and I believe, "the problem is not that people are taxed too little, the problem is that government spends too much." I want to be perfectly clear: I do not support raising taxes on the American people.
My concern is with the other individuals, groups, and causes with whom Mr. Norquist is associated that have nothing to do with keeping taxes low.