House Speaker John Boehner’s acquiescence on tax rates appears to have caused a rift in the conservative wing of the Republican Party.
Hours after anti-tax activist Grover Norquist released a statement that his group, Americans for Tax Reform approved of Boehner’s “Plan B” to let tax rates expire only on millionaires, more than 20 conservative organizations joined together to urge members of Congress to vote ‘no’ on the bill when it comes to the floor Thursday.
“This tax increase bill is just like the tax increase proposal Nancy Pelosi offered last year on May 23rd,” reads a letter from the groups to members of Congress. What’s more, their request seems to come with the threat of a primary challenge if members do not comply.
“This is the sort of vote we'll look at closely when we look at our options in 2014,” said Club for Growth Vice President Andrew Roth at a press conference on Capitol Hill Wednesday, though he could not definitively say his group would help challenge to lawmakers who support Boehner’s bill.
“I firmly believe that the decisions about politics should be made by Americans that are not in Washington, DC, but I tell you if I went home and told them after taking a pledge not to raise taxes and voted for that I would certainly deserve primary opposition,” said Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp, the only member of Congress to attend the press conference (and he was late).
Huelskamp – who was stripped of his committee assignments by Boehner earlier this year – said that he didn’t know whether the speaker has enough votes to get the plan passed, but believes that it is “overwhelmingly” opposed by Republicans because it raises taxes.
“It’s not about Plan B, it’s not about Plan A its not about Plan C,” he said. “It’s about core Republican, core conservative principles and there’s a core principle here at stake in this decision.”
While it remains unclear whether Boehner’s conference will back the Plan B measure, Republicans were granted a measure of cover on Wednesday when ATR said it would not consider a ‘yes’ vote a violation of its Taxpayer Protection Pledge.
“Republicans supporting this bill are this week affirming to their constituents in writing that this bill—the sole purpose of which is to prevent tax increases—is consistent with the pledge they made to them,” a letter on its website says.
The conservative leaders didn’t disavow Norquist, but stood firm in their disagreement.
“I think Grover will be the first person to tell you that the pledge is to the taxpayers and not to Americans for Tax Reform,” said Michael Needham, the CEO of Heritage Action. “We think 26 conservative groups are absolutely united in saying that this is a violation of the commitment not to raise taxes.”
“I think its certainly better to go over the fiscal cliff than have the Republican Party deny the American people to have one party that stands for lower taxes and one party that doesn’t,” he told reporters.
ForAmerica Chairman Brent Bozell warned of dire consequences if it should pass.
“If the Republicans support this tax increase they will lose control of the House in the 2014 elections,” he insisted. “Not only that, but a whole lot of members who thought they were safe and who thought they could get away with this will lose in their own districts…This is precisely what happened to them 6 years ago and they’ve already forgotten that lesson. The Republicans were tossed out of the majority when they broke their word on spending.”
A “real” fiscal conservative, he said, “would simply walk away from this mess.”