CHEYENNE — Sen. Mike Enzi is among the vast majority of House and Senate Republicans who have signed a pledge not to vote for any tax increases, but said it’s a bad idea for lawmakers to make the commitment, even if they agree with the premise.
Enzi said Thursday he will abide by his oath of office but won’t sign or be bound by any lawmaker pledges, including the Americans for Tax Reform pledge championed by conservative activist Grover Norquist.
The pledge calls for opposing increases to marginal income tax rates and to oppose any net cuts to tax deductions or credits unless the moves are offset by reduced tax rates.
Enzi signed it during his first Senate campaign in 1996 but has not signed any pledges since, said his spokesman, Dan Head.
Part of the problem, Head said by email, is that pledges can be open to interpretation and the meaning can change over time. For example, some lawmakers have used the Americans for Tax Reform pledge to defend spending, he said.
“Grover Norquist doesn’t live in Wyoming and Sen. Enzi’s primary concern is what is best for his constituents,” Head said. “He will not give away his vote to someone else’s stretched interpretation.”
Norquist said neither the wording nor meaning of the pledge has changed over the years. It was news to him, he said, that anybody had used the pledge to defend spending.
Norquist said the pledge is to the people of Wyoming, not to him.
“He promised them in writing he wouldn’t raise their taxes and if he wants to change his mind, he has to tell them,” Norquist said by phone.
The pledge is getting new attention as lawmakers and President Barack Obama try to address the budget deficit.
Steep tax increases and budget cuts will automatically take effect next year — a possibility known as the “fiscal cliff.” Some economists say it could send the economy back into recession if Obama and Congress don’t agree to more moderate measures by the end of this year.
Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso is one of six Republican senators who have not signed the Americans for Tax Reform pledge, according to the group’s website. Rep. Cynthia Lummis said she proudly signed the pledge in 2008, the year she was first elected to Congress.
Obama favors allowing Bush-era tax cuts to expire for couples with incomes above $250,000 a year. However, Enzi’s stance on pledges doesn’t mean he endorses that move or any tax increase.
Enzi won’t commit to any approach to dealing with the deficit unless it’s part of specific legislation he has read and studied, Head said.
“Tough decisions have to be made, but a little pain now is better than a lot of pain when all our bills come due,” Enzi said by email through his spokesman.
Enzi’s deficit reduction proposals include freezing federal spending and cutting 1 percent from every agency and program each year for five years, which Enzi said would yield a balanced budget in five years.
He endorses many recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles budget commission, including reforming the tax code, he said. Former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming co-chaired the committee.
Like Enzi, Lummis supports some of the tax reform ideas in the Simpson-Bowles recommendations.
“I support tax reform that closes loopholes, broadening the tax base and reducing deductions and credits while reducing the tax rate,” Lummis said in a statement.
“Focusing only on a politically expedient and narrow-minded ‘tax the rich’ approach, which is in reality a tax increase on America’s small businesses, will get us nowhere close to the number needed for comprehensive reform,” she said.
Americans for Tax Reform lists Barrasso along with Jeff Flake of Arizona, Charles Grassley of Iowa, Susan Collins of Maine, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, and John Hoeven of North Dakota as Republican senators who have not signed the no-tax-increases pledge.
“If we can agree to close loopholes and simplify our tax code, we can broaden the tax base through private industry expansion and lower unemployment,” Barrasso said by email.