By Tom Lawrence
While some Republican lawmakers have said they are willing to walk away from a pledge to never support a tax increase, South Dakota's two GOP members of Congress aren't willing to go that far.
No yet, anyway.
Sen. John Thune and Rep. Kristi Noem have both signed the "Taxpayer Protection Pledge," which states that elected officials who sign it will never vote to increase taxes.
Both said this week they are not ready to support increases in tax rates, but stopped short of saying they would not consider options to increase government revenue as the so-called fiscal cliff nears at the end of the year. The fiscal cliff is a combination of tax hikes and steep federal spending cuts that will go into effect Dec. 31, and both Republicans and Democrats have said they want to work together to avoid tumbling over the economic precipice.
Forty-one of 47 Republican senators and 238 of 242 Republicans in the House have signed the no-tax-increase pledge.
All but one of the GOP candidates for president in 2012 also signed it. It's promoted by Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. The pledge was introduced in 1986 and has long been popular among Republican candidates.
Thune said he is waiting to hear more from President Obama and the Democrats before supporting tax increases.
"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," he 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."
Noem said she is willing to consider options, but does not favor tax hikes.
"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."
Noem drew some fire from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which asked if she would take a stand on the matter.
"With the fiscal cliff looming in just 35 days, Congresswoman Kristi Noem has a simple choice: Stand with middle class families or ultra conservative lobbyist Grover Norquist and his pledge to protect tax breaks for millionaires," said the DCCC's Jesse Ferguson. "Top Republicans are ditching Grover Norquist's pledge, so will Congresswoman Kristi Noem follow or is her top priority protecting millionaires even if it forces middle class families to pay more?"
In recent days, some Republicans who had signed the pledge said they are willing to support tax increases on wealthy Americans as a way to forge a deal with Democrats.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, of Virginia, as well as Reps. Peter King, of New York, and Steve LaTourette, of Ohio, said they would consider voting for tax increases. LaTourette, who did not seek re-election, said he is weary of politicians playing games with taxes and tax rates, which he said is "baloney."
"When I go to the constituents that have re-elected me, it is not about that pledge," Cantor said during a TV interview Monday. "It really is about trying to solve problems."
Norquist said Monday that King was trying to "weasel out" on his pledge, while King answered Tuesday that Norquist was "being a lowlife" for making such an assertion.
Rep. Scott Rigell, of Virginia, has staked out a position similar to Noem's. Rigell said he believes tax revenues must go up, and that the way to do it is by closing loopholes and deductions and boosting economic growth.
Others who have said they no longer feel bound by the pledge include Sens. John McCain, of Arizona, Tom Coburn, of Oklahoma, Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, Saxby Chambliss, of Georgia, Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, and Bob Corker, of Tennessee.
In addition to members of Congress, other public officials can sign the pledge, and seven South Dakota legislators have. Six are Republicans and one is a Democrat.
State Rep. Stace Nelson, a Republican from Fulton, is a signer, as are fellow Republican state House members Steve Hickey, Patty Miller and Betty Olson.
State Rep. Dean Schrempp, a Democrat, also signed it, as did two Republican state senators, Deb Peters and Dan Lederman.