WASHINGTON - In GOP activist circles it is known simply as the pledge, and during the past 25 years it has become the essential conservative credential for a whole generation of Republicans seeking elective office in a party defined by its implacable opposition to raising taxes.
Of the 242 Republicans serving in the House of Representatives, all but six have signed the antitax pledge that has emerged as a key enforcement mechanism of the Republican orthodoxy on taxes.
But now, an increasing number of Republicans running for Congress are declining to sign the pledge. It is a small sign that could signal a big shift in the GOP’s politics on taxes.
Of the 25 candidates this year promoted by the National Republican Congressional Committee as “young guns’’ and “contenders’’ - the top rungs of a program highlighting promising candidates challenging Democrats or running in open seats - at least a third have said they do not plan to sign the pledge.
Two of the seven candidates promoted by the NRCC as the “Young Gun Vanguard’’ - those competing in open seats that are considered Republican-leaning - have also declined to sign.
Authored by antitax crusader Grover Norquist, the pledge compels candidates to resist any effort to raise tax rates for individuals and businesses. They also pledge to oppose the elimination of tax credits and deductions unless they are matched dollar-for-dollar with other tax cuts.
Norquist insists Americans for Tax Reform, the powerful group he founded in 1986, is ahead of schedule in collecting pledge signatures from congressional candidates for the year.
But among Republican challengers, there are defections.
Republican candidates declining to sign generally indicate that they nevertheless oppose tax increases. But some are chafing against the constraint on eliminating tax loopholes, believing those restrictions limit Republicans’ ability to negotiate seriously with Democrats.
Others insist they can make promises to voters without signing a pledge circulated by a Washington lobbying group, a sign that Democrats might be having some success at painting Norquist as a D.C. insider rather than an antiestablishment rebel.
“I don’t want to get tied up in knots,’’ said Richard Tisei, an NRCC “young gun’’ and former state senator in Massachusetts who faces Representative John Tierney, a Democrat. “If there’s a loophole that can be closed that ends up generating additional revenue that can be used specifically to pay down the national debt, I’m not going to lose sleep. And I don’t want to be bound by the pledge not to close it.’’
The defections among some new candidates come as a handful of incumbents who signed the pledge when they first ran for office - some years ago - are also publicly rejecting it.
Senator admonished by ethics panel about contacts
WASHINGTON - The Senate Ethics Committee admonished Republican Senator Tom Coburn on Friday about his contact with a top aide to former senator John Ensign, the Nevada lawmaker who resigned in disgrace last year after lying about his affair with the staffer’s wife.
In a letter, the panel said Coburn’s communications with Doug Hampton and his actions on behalf of the former administrative assistant “were improper conduct which reflects on the Senate.’’ The committee said the contact warranted a public letter of qualified admonition. Specifically, the committee said a meeting between the two violated the Senate rule barring contact on legislative matters within the first year of a staffer’s departure, known as the “cooling off period.’’