UPDATE 1-Chambliss latest US Republican to break with anti-tax lobbyist

Kim Dixon
Reuters Middle East

* 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

U.S. conservatives.

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

to be.

"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

borrowing limit.

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.

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