The media loves to portray anti-tax activist Grover Norquist as the sole impediment keeping Congress from agreeing to a “grand bargain” that will save the country from financial ruin. For example, see this Politico piece that really goes out of its way to tar the founder and long-time president of Americans for Tax Reform.
So, accordingly, House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) was asked at a press conference this morning whether he thought Norquist was “positive influence” on House Republicans.
Boehner, for his part, has routinely dismissed the notion that the entire House GOP conference is beholden to Norquist and his anti-tax pledge, which most Republicans in Congress have signed. This time was no different, although the way the speaker phrased his response certainly has the blogosphere buzzing.
“Listen, our focus here is on jobs,” Boehner said after a long pause. “We’re doing everything we can to get our economy moving again and to get people back to work. It’s not often I’m asked about some random person in America.”
When pressed to clarify if he really viewed Norquist as a “random person,” Boehner reiterated: “Our focus is on creating jobs, not talking about somebody’s personality.”
“Our conference is opposed to tax hikes, because we believe that tax hikes will hurt our economy and put Americans back to work,” he added.
Norquist did not appear to take offense, responding via Twitter: “Boehner is wise: ‘Our conf. is opposed to tax hikes because we believe that tax hikes will hurt our economy and put Americans out of work.’”
However, the fact that 40 House Republicans recently signed onto a letter urging the so-called “supercommittee” to consider “all options,” including revenue, in pursuit of a $4 trillion deficit-reduction package, would appear to signal that Norquist’s influence within the conference could be waning. All but three of the GOP signatories have signed the ATR pledge.
Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R., Wyo.), one of the most conservative GOP members, told the Associated Press that she wasn’t “an absolute ‘hell no’ person when it comes to considering all options.” Lummis signed the ATR pledge when she was first elected in 2008, but did not sign it this past year. “Grover Norquist is not in my district,” she told AP. “I represent the state of Wyoming and its people.”
It remains to be seen what the supercommittee will ultimately produce. Sources tell NRO it is likely that the final product will come up short of the $1.2 trillion target set by the debt-ceiling deal, and will almost certainty not include any measures that would qualify as a “tax increase” as outlined in the ATR pledge. And it won’t be because of the pledge itself, but rather for the reasons Boehner laid out today, as he has done all year.