Norquist vs. Coburn

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Dana Milbank covers a dispute between them. Senator Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) wants to abolish an ethanol tax break. Norquist, the head of Americans for Tax Reform, is opposing his amendment, calling it a violation of the “taxpayers’ protection pledge,” which his organization promotes and Coburn, among many other Republicans, took.

Two relevant points don’t make it into Milbank’s story. The first is that Norquist opposes the tax break too: He just wants its repeal to be accompanied by a tax cut that keeps the total tax level from rising. The second is that Norquist is indisputably correct about what the pledge requires. The pledge is short, and it explicitly commits takers to “oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses” and to “oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.” Maybe Coburn thinks that pledge makes for bad policy. If so, he shouldn’t have taken it.