An influential anti-tax activist caused a stir Thursday when he appeared to give Republicans who have signed his "no-tax" pledge an out in the ongoing deficit negotiations. His organization later backtracked.
Grover Norquist, the head of the anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform, told the Washington Post that an expiration of the Bush tax cuts from 2001 and 2003 would not technically be a tax increase and therefore would not be violation of his pledge, signed by most Republicans in Congress.
"Not continuing a tax cut is not technically a tax increase," Norquist told the newspaper's editorial board. "So it doesn't violate the pledge? 'We wouldn't hold it that way,' he said."
Americans for Tax Reform quickly issued a clarification to Norquist's remarks.
"ATR opposes all tax increases on the American people. Any failure to extend or make permanent the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, in whole or in part, would clearly increase taxes on the American people," the statement said. "It is a violation of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge to trade temporary tax reductions for permanent tax hikes."
Democrats seized on the remarks as leaders from both parties continue negotiations to raise the legal U.S. borrowing limit and reduce the deficit over the long-term. Republicans want to reduce the deficit by cutting spending and shrinking the size of government while Democrats want to cut the deficit with a more "balanced approach" that would cut spending and increase revenues to the government.
"I think that Mr. Norquist had made a very, very important statement that I hope that they each take into consideration," Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Thursday, adding that he was hopeful Speaker John Boehner would pursue a "grand" plan in a "balanced way."
White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer took to Twitter, calling Norquist's comment a significant development in the deficit talks.
"Are most House GOPers to the right of Grover on taxes?" Pfeiffer wrote.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) jumped on the bandwagon.
"Grover Norquist, the hall monitor when it comes to enforcing the Republican Party's anti-tax pledge, has given House Republicans a hall pass. They should use it," Schumer said in remarks on the Senate floor.
In an interview with CBS News political analyst John Dickerson Wednesday, Norquist said his pledge makes a compromise between Mr. Obama and Republicans on budget issues "easier."
"It takes off the table that which is not going to happen- tax increases, and that which is not part of the solution- tax increases," Norquist said.
"It's not as if they are trying to solve the same problem different ways," Norquist told CBS News. "Republicans would like to cut spending, Democrats would like to raise taxes and reduce spending as little as possible."
"We will cut spending less than the Republicans would like to cut it and we will spend less than Obama wants to spend- that will be the compromise."