Rules change clears way for tax increases
One of the first key procedural votes in the Democrat-controlled House established legislative rules that Republicans say will make it easier to raise taxes by a simple majority vote.
The straight party-line vote received little attention on Jan. 4 as Rep. Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, was elected speaker of the House. But Republican leaders and conservative tax-cut advocates said it opened up a huge loophole in a Republican-imposed rule drawn from the Republicans’ 1994 Contract with America, which requires a supermajority, or three-fifths vote, to raise taxes.
Democrats unanimously voted down a motion offered by Minority LeaderJohnA.BoehnerofOhiothat would have prevented them from waivingtherule,amovethattax-cutters said signaled the Democrats’ intentiontoraisetaxesbetweennow and the 2008 elections.
“Americantaxpayersneedtohold on to their wallets because the new House rules concerning taxes are not worth the paper they’re written on,” said Grover Norquist, president ofAmericansforTaxReform(ATR).
“After spending an entire year on the campaign trail claiming she will not raise taxes, the first vote Nancy Pelosi brings to the floor for a vote as speaker will open the door to billions and billions of dollars of tax increases over the next two years,” Mr. Norquist said.
Many liberal Democrats vowed in the midterm election campaigns to repeal the Bush tax cuts for those in the top income-tax brackets, and party leaders already have scheduled a vote to eliminate tax breaks for oil companies, which would effectively raise taxes on the nation’s energyproducing corporations.
“The Democrats have a more established record of wanting to raise taxes than Republicans do. So to have them reject making the rule unwaivable indicates they want to preserve the option to raise taxes,” said Jo Maney, spokeswoman for the Rules Committee, through which all legislation must pass.
“The Democrats were smart in crafting the new rules,” said Dan Clifton, ATR’s chief economist. “They did not change them but made additions to them. Now the three-fifths rule can be waived by a simple majority,” or 218 votes.
“President Clinton got a bare majority 218 votes for his tax increases in 1993. So all the Democrats have to do is vote to waive the three-fifths rule, and they’ve got a tax increase,” Mr. Clifton said.
Democratic officials saw Mr. Boehner’s motion as a move to tie their hands on future tax policy, and the majority leadership effectively held all of its troops in line to oppose it, even though some of its members ran on pledges not to raise taxes.
“In the coming months, the Democrat-controlled Rules Committee will be pressured to repeal or waive the Contract with America’s barriers against unfair tax increases to make it easier for the Democrat majority in Congress to raise taxes,” Mr. Boehner predicted.