Representative Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican, said anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist has profited from associations with “unsavory” groups and has become an obstacle to an overhaul of the U.S. tax code.
“My conscience has compelled me to come to the floor today to voice concerns I have with the influence Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, has on the political process in Washington,” Wolf read from a statement on the floor of the House of Representatives today.
Wolf listed a series of associations that he said undermines Norquist’s credibility as a policy advocate. Among them, he cited a relationship Norquist had with former lobbyist and convicted felon Jack Abramoff.
“Mr. Abramoff essentially laundered money through ATR and Mr. Norquist knew it,” Wolf said.
The link between Norquist and Abramoff was documented in an October 2006 report by Democratic members of the Senate Finance Committee.
Norquist today called Wolf’s comments “silly and dishonest.”
“Frank Wolf is very frustrated,” Norquist said in a phone interview today, because Norquist declined his request about two years ago to support an effort to narrow the federal budget deficit through a combination of tax increases and budget cuts.
Norquist said Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush tried blending tax increases and budget cuts and couldn’t rein in spending. “We did it his way in ‘82 and ‘90 and it failed,” he said.
In his floor remarks, Wolf criticized Norquist for lobbying on behalf of Fannie Mae, a main source of mortgage financing in the U.S. that is currently under government conservatorship. Norquist also represented the Internet gambling industry, Wolf said.
Norquist said some of the lobbying occurred 15 or 16 years ago when Americans for Tax Reform “had no money.”
“It has nothing to do with anything here,” Norquist said.
Wolf also said Norquist represented “terrorist financier and vocal Hamas supporter Abdurahman Alamoudi” and “associated with terrorist financier Sami Al-Arian, who pleaded guilty in 2006 to conspiring to provide services to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.”
Norquist said Wolf is recycling discredited allegations about him. “It’s sad and unfortunate,” Norquist said.
Wolf said lobbyists in Washington have clients “of all stripes and backgrounds. But my concern arises when the appearances of impropriety are raised over and over again with a person who has such influence over public policy.”
Norquist, a small government advocate, has spent years urging lawmakers to sign a pledge not to raise taxes. On the website of Americans for Tax Reform, a Washington-based group that advocates for lower taxes, it states that 41 sitting members of the U.S. Senate and 236 sitting members of the U.S. House have signed the anti-tax pledge. Norquist founded the group in 1985.
Political scientist James Thurber said Wolf’s attack on Norquist may be part of a House Republican strategy to seek changes to the tax code that may include some tax increases.
“The Republicans need maneuvering room on taxes,” said Thurber, the director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University in Washington. “This is a nuclear bomb on the guy who is forcing everybody to not compromise.”
“It’s likely the House leadership knew about this ahead of time,” Thurber said.
Aides to House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Norquist dismissed the notion that House leaders might be trying to mute the influence of his no-new-taxes message.
“Not a chance,” Norquist said. “I work regularly with leadership.”
Wolf, 72, was first elected in 1980 and is the senior member of the Virginia congressional delegation. He represents a section of northern Virginia that stretches from McLean in suburban Washington west to the Blue Ridge Mountains.
His comments come during a partisan debate over how to reduce the federal budget deficit, with many Republicans opposed to increasing taxes to address it.
Wolf said he wasn’t calling for tax increases but that “everything must be on the table for discussion” including “reforms to make the tax code simpler and fairer and free from special-interest earmarks.”
Wolf hasn’t signed the anti-tax pledge.
He said “reasonable people can disagree on the merits of the pledge -- and I respect those differences-- but the issue is with the interpreter of a pledge.”