* Most elected Republicans have signed Norquist pledge
* Wealthy paying more in taxes was part of Obama's campaign
* Taking on Norquist no longer "kiss of death"
WASHINGTON, Nov 23 (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss
this week became the latest Republican lawmaker to loosen his
ties to Grover Norquist, the anti-tax lobbyist famous for
getting elected officials to sign a "taxpayer protection
The rebellion, albeit a modest one, comes as Republicans
prepare to negotiate with Democrats and President Barack Obama
on a deal to avert the so-called fiscal cliff - some $600
billion in tax increases and spending cuts set to start jolting
the economy at the beginning of 2013.
"I care more about this country than I do about a
20-year-old pledge," Chambliss told Georgia television station
WMAZ on Thursday. "If we do it his way, then we'll continue in
debt, and I just have a disagreement with him about that."
A vast majority of elected Republicans have signed the
pledge Norquist created in 1986, which commits them to voting
against tax increases, and it became a type of litmus test among
But its influence, and that of Norquist's organization,
Americans for Tax Reform, may be waning following Republican
losses in this month's elections and acknowledgments from
Republican leaders that revenue must be raised to pare deficits
topping $1 trillion.
"Grover Norquist has no plan to pay this debt down. His plan
says you continue to add to the debt. I just have a fundamental
disagreement with him about that," Chambliss said.
Norquist, in response, noted that Chambliss was an author of
an open letter to him last year from three Republicans promising
support for revenue generation from the "pro-growth effects" of
lower tax rates.
"Senator Chambliss promised the people of Georgia he would
go to Washington and reform government rather than raise taxes
to pay for bigger government," Norquist said.
Some Republicans contend they are only open to raising
revenue through economic growth, an impact hard to quantify and
which Democrats and many economists say is not nearly enough.
Republican aides on Capitol Hill have been grumbling
privately about the attention Norquist gets, worrying that it
weakens their ability to negotiate across the aisle.
Representative Scott Rigell, a Republican who won
re-election despite disavowing the pledge, expressed similar
sentiments publicly in a Nov. 17 interview on CNN.
Rigell said he was a businessman and would "go where the
numbers lead me. And a careful analysis of our budget and trying
to reconcile that with the Americans for Tax Reform Pledge led
me to the clear decision that the pledge itself is an impediment
to meaningful tax reform."
Norm Ornstein, a political scientist at the
conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, said such
comments showed taking on Norquist was not as risky as it used
"Taking on Grover Norquist at this point is not the kiss of
death it was a year or five years ago," Ornstein said.
"Especially when you have a president winning re-election after
making raising taxes on the rich a centerpiece of his campaign."
By signing the pledge, lawmakers agree to "oppose any and
all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate for
individuals and business," and "oppose any net reduction" or
elimination of deductions and credits, unless it is matched
dollar for dollar with further tax rate cuts.
Chambliss is a member of the so-called Gang of Eight group
of senators, a bipartisan alliance working for deficit
reduction, formed last year when the country was on the verge of
default thanks to a partisan battle over raising the country's
Among the other Republicans who have expressed misgivings
about the pledge in recent months are Senator Lindsey Graham and
Representative Steve LaTourette, who is leaving the House,
citing the polarized climate in Washington.
The new House of Representatives, which starts work in
January, has 16 Republicans who have not signed the pledge, up
from six in the outgoing Congress. One new Republican senator,
Jeff Flake, also has not signed.
Democrats believe they have the upper hand in talks, after
Obama's win over Republican challenger Mitt Romney in a campaign
in which Obama stressed the need for the wealthy to pay more in
Speaking on the sidelines of a Washington event last week,
Norquist told Reuters: "People don't always take the pledge
first when they run. A lot take it after they have been there
for a while. The pledge isn't the only vehicle for stopping tax
Chambliss, who is up for re-election in 2014, was asked in
the interview whether Norquist would retaliate against him.
"In all likelihood, yes," Chambliss said.