Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist is normally greeted with open arms by House Republicans seeking the anti-tax activist’s endorsement and advice.
But not by Virginia Republican Rep. Frank Wolf on Tuesday.
In an unusual broadside against a private, albeit influential, citizen, the GOP lawmaker criticized Norquist on the House floor on Tuesday. Wolf accused him of breaking the law and manipulating lawmakers to achieve personal aims over the public good. “My conscience has compelled me to come to the floor today to voice concerns I have with the influence of Grover Norquist,” Wolf said. It is not ATR’s pledge of no new taxes that Wolf opposes, although he has never signed ATR’s pledge. Rather, it is Norquist’s affiliations with certain groups and organizations that Wolf argued should negate Norquist’s powerful hold on the GOP on tax policy because of the pledge.
In particular, Wolf accused Norquist of allowing disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff to launder money through ATR. Wolfe also criticized Norquist’s lobbying on behalf of entities including Fannie Mae, the Internet gambling industry, and the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detainee facility. Wolf also aligned Norquist’s activities with two men he characterized as terrorist financiers: Abdurahman Alamoudi and Sami Al-Arian. “Simply put, I believe Mr. Norquist is connected with or has profited from a number of unsavory people and groups out of the mainstream,” Wolf said.
Norquist has never been charged with any wrongdoing, and has long maintained that he did nothing wrong in his relationship with Abramoff.
Wolf used his floor speech to call on lawmakers to question their loyalty to Norquist’s pledge, which he argued is “a roadblock to realistically reforming our tax code” because it binds Republicans from the start in negotiations over the tax code. Wolf pledged his alliance with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who has publicly battled with Norquist this year over whether the elimination of tax expenditures equals a tax increase if the elimination is not offset elsewhere in the tax code. Coburn says it’s not. Norquist says it is. “I stand with Sen. Coburn,” Wolf said, in extended remarks submitted in the Congressional Record.
“Rep. Wolf’s comments overstated Norquist’s influence but accurately reflect the views of the vast majority of free-market conservatives on tax policy,” Coburn spokesman John Hart said in response to a request for comment. “Fortunately, the vast majority of tax-reform advocates already share Dr. Coburn’s view that tax earmarks for Hollywood movie producers and ethanol blenders are spending programs masquerading as tax breaks.”
No other lawmakers joined Wolf’s chorus on Tuesday, a signal of Norquist’s pervading influence on Capitol Hill.
Norquist was dismissive of Wolf’s attack in an interview with National Journal. “He either doesn’t understand what the pledge is or he is not accurate in how he portrays it,” Norquist said. “He had a melt-down and a hissy fit and I hope he’ll sober up and get back to the issue of holding spending down, not raising taxes.”
A spokesman for Wolf said there was no event that prompted Tuesday’s speech. “There is no magic to today nor anything special behind the timing. Mr. Wolf has been thinking and talking about this for a while,” said Joe McNulty.
In other words: Wolf’s mad as hell, and he’s not going to take it anymore.