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Thune Unclear, Noem Abandoning Norquist Tax Pledge

Yesterday I noted that a number of Republicans are disowning Grover Norquist's no-new-taxes pledge and the anti-government activist's pretension to power. Tom Lawrence promptly got on the horn to South Dakota's primary pledge adherents, Senator John Thune and Rep. Kristi Noem, to see whether they still stand with Norquist.

Unlike their headlining colleagues, Thune and Noem struggle to give a straight answer:

"The president has yet to put forward a proposal on the fiscal cliff regarding both taxes and entitlement reform, so at this point it is hard to speculate about the specific components of any final deal," [Senator Thune] said in an email response to Daily Republic questions.

"Clearly, the proposal that the president and Democrats in Congress have reiterated lacks any details about how to address the true driver of our growing national debt and that’s entitlement spending. Simply increasing taxes on small businesses is the last thing that we should be doing in a struggling economy" [Tom Lawrence, "Thune, Noem Stick with Norquist No-Tax Pledge," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2012.11.27].

Norquist's pledge is about never increasing tax rates. If Senator Thune still believes in the pledge he signed, his answer to Lawrence should be simple: no, no matter what other specific components the coming fiscal plan will include. Senator Thune doesn't say no or never. He grumbles about a lack of specifics from the other guys, but he doesn't say what specifics he proposes. He says "simply raising taxes on small businesses is the last thing we should be doing," but he doesn't say he won't do that last thing.

Remarkably, Noem answers more directly than Thune:

I am opposed to raising tax rates but I am open to a solution that brings in additional revenues by simplifying the tax code and closing loopholes [Rep. Kristi Noem, quoted by Lawrence, 2012.11.27].

Simplifying the tax code and closing loopholes? Uh oh, Kristi—check the pledge! You pledged to "oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates." You're saying you are open to reducing or eliminating deductions and credits. And when you speak of bringing in additional revenues, you're saying you aren't looking to match those code changes dollar for dollar with rate decreases.

Thune is saying he won't simply increase taxes. Noem is saying she's open to increasing taxes. Neither is giving the simple no Grover Norquist demands.

And if Thune and Noem break that promise in the interest of rational fiscal policy, I can live with that.


  1. mike 2012.11.28

    I'm sure Noem is hesitant to take any pledge off the table because it's ammo against Rounds in a primary run.

    "Rounds has refused in the past to pledge never to support a tax increase. He made that refusal personally to well-known anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

    “He called me at home, back when I was Senate leader,” Rounds said. “I just said ‘no.’”

    Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., have signed the Norquist pledge. Johnson has not".

  2. mike 2012.11.28

    From that same article:

    "And if Rounds does run in 2014, he said he won’t be signing any no-tax pledges.

    “I don’t think you go in saying I will never do this or never do that,” he said. “No, I will not sign a no-new tax pledge.”

  3. Douglas Wiken 2012.11.28

    The rats are leaving the sinking ship.

  4. Tom Lawrence 2012.11.28

    I actually sent emailed questions to Noem and Thune Monday night, and got the replies late Monday, in time for the Wednesday paper. I did see your blog Tuesday, however, so it does show that great minds do think alike.
    The biggest hurdle in this story was ensuring that when we ran a photo of Grover it was not the blue Sesame Street character. Now that's a Grover I can and do fully support.

  5. PrairieLady - Gayle 2012.11.28

    Some one should send them both some info, not that it would be read.
    During the last months of the election I sent them both an email. Never heard from Thune and got a call from someone in one of Noem's offices. When I asked Noem's drone why she signed the pledge all he could say is that "the people of SD do not want their taxes raised." I said, skip the talking point and tell me why she took the oath of office, then signed a pledge to Grover. Got the same reply, so I just hung up.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.11.28

    Thanks for the clarification, Tom! I should know better than to think I'm a step ahead of you on newshunting. ;-)

    And I totally want to steal the Grover vs. Grover idea. Depending on how the fiscal cliff negotiations pan out, we might see a year-end cartoon with blue Grover standing triumphant over red Grover. Could "Sesame Street beats Wall Street" sum up the year in politics?

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.11.28

    Mike, good point on Rounds's prescience! Practically, we should all hope that Noem gives up her simple talking point politics and learns to think for herself. (Gayle's experience on the phone suggests that'll never happen.) But Team Rounds should perhaps hope Noem clings to her pledge so they can hammer on her for showing more loyalty to a whiny Washington lobbyist than to the general welfare of South Dakotans.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.11.28

    And Gayle, that's a great link! It says that increasing demand will do much more to create jobs for small business than tax breaks for the wealthy. How do we use fiscal policy to stimulate demand? Says the article, we extend the tax breaks for lower- and middle-income folks, who will spend a larger portion of that tax break on demand for small-business goods and services than will rich tax break recipients. Heck of an argument!

  9. mike 2012.11.28

    Noem would be dumb to challenge Rounds. Rounds probably has a pile of dirt on Noem as big as Lauck and his character assassins have on Rounds.

    I'd think twice if I was Noem wanting to run against Rounds - a real pol with real skills, money, people and knowledge.

    If Noem challenged Rounds we'd probably find out Noem didn't do all she said she did with her farm, her hunting lodge wasn't much of a business and her restaurant days were more like a part time gig for a summer.

    Noem has skeleton's in her closet and challenging Rounds would allow someone to dig them up and cast them into the sunlight.

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.11.29

    Jiminy Christmas, Mike! Couldn't someone help us find all that right now? Whom do I call to get that evidence?

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