Today ATR released the following letter (PDF).

15 June 2011

Dear Senator:

I wanted to clearly state the Taxpayer Protection Pledge implications of yesterday’s cloture vote on SA 436.

Senators who voted for cloture on SA 436 did not vote for a tax increase.  Nor did they violate the Taxpayer Protection Pledge which reads: 

I  pledge to the taxpayers of the state of _____and to the American people that I will:
ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and
TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.

Americans for Tax Reform made this crystal clear in its public statement of Friday, June 10 when ATR  recommended that those Pledge takers opposed to ethanol mandates and preferences should vote for cloture and vote for the Coburn Amendment and for the DeMint Amendment.  The vote for cloture failed and Senators did not have the opportunity to vote for or against Coburn and/or DeMint.

According to the Republican staff of the Senate Budget Committee, the Coburn amendment is a net tax increase of $2.4 billion. Because of this, a vote for the Coburn amendment alone would violate the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.

The Taxpayer movement repeatedly asked Senator Coburn to make this amendment consistent with the Taxpayer Protection Pledge signed by 233 members of the US House and 41 US Senators.  He refused to do so and actually wished to make his amendment a tax increase to provide the government with more money to spend.

In recent months, ATR has been in contact with taxpayer advocate and ethanol preference opponent Senator Jim DeMint. Senator DeMint expressed an interest in offering an amendment  which would end the ethanol mandate (something the Coburn amendment fails to do), and would provide a tax cut offset—death tax repeal—that was a  tax cut significantly larger than Coburn’s tax increase. Due to the manner in which the Coburn amendment was brought up for consideration, Senate rules prohibited the DeMint amendment from being offered as a second degree to the Coburn amendment. As a result, Senator DeMint offered his amendment as a standalone measure to the underlying bill.

ATR was assured by Republican leadership that should cloture on SA 436 receive 60 votes, a vote on DeMint—or at minimum a procedural vote to allow a vote on DeMint—would immediately follow the vote on the Coburn amendment.

As a result, ATR informed Pledge signers that voting for cloture (and subsequently voting for the Coburn amendment) would be consistent with the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, provided that the Pledge signer also voted for the DeMint amendment later in the process.

Any Senator could now make his or her positions on tax increases and ethanol industrial policy clear.  One could vote for ending ethanol industrial policy and for lower taxes by voting for both Coburn and DeMint.  Or, one could vote to maintain the ethanol industrial policy (the mandate) and raise taxes on mandated ethanol use and support high death taxes by voting for Coburn and against DeMint.

Coburn refused to write his amendment to end the ethanol mandate and he refused to include offsetting tax reductions. As such, advocates of lower taxes and opponents of industrial policy had to write their legislation around his flawed amendment.

While this scenario is unusual at the federal level, it is very common in state level considerations of tax legislation.

The Senate was forced into this Rube Goldberg set of votes by Senator Coburn’s twin objectives: tricking Republicans into voting for a tax hike and preserving the impetus for American ethanol consumption, the mandate.

Senator Coburn said on the floor of the Senate this Monday that he supports ethanol and supports the government mandate forcing Americans to purchase ethanol.  Senator Coburn said today that his true intention was to get Republicans used to voting for net tax hikes.

Senator Coburn failed.  He was not able to get Republicans to vote for a tax increase.  The procedural vote to move forward to the Coburn and DeMint amendments was only a vote for a tax hike in Senator Coburn’s mind.

Republican leadership in the House and Senate have clearly stated their opposition to any net tax hike now or in the future.

This letter should clear up any misunderstandings created by those hoping to use this rigmarole to push for tax increases.

Grover G. Norquist