U.S. Reps. Rich Nugent, Gus Bilirakis stand firm on no-tax pledge

Scan the list of candidates who signed conservative activist Grover Norquist's pledge against new taxes and you'll find the names of both congressmen representing Pasco County.

Now, as lawmakers wrangle over the debt limit, Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Spring Hill, and Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, are sticking to the "Taxpayer Protection Pledge."

Any plan to solve the impasse and raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling must not raise taxes, Nugent said.

"That's a non-starter," he said Wednesday.

Bilirakis shared that sentiment in his comments last week on the House floor: "The bottom line is we have to reduce our spending and start living within our means."

Both men were among the House members who voted Tuesday night for the GOP's "cut, cap and balance" plan that would raise the debt ceiling but also impose strict caps on all future federal spending and make it significantly tougher to raise taxes.

The plan, which calls for $111 billion in immediate spending cuts next year, also would require Congress to pass a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution before raising the debt ceiling. Nugent calls that a critical component of any plan.

The plan has little chance of clearing the Democratic-controlled Senate or surviving a certain presidential veto. But the vote allowed rank-and-file Republicans to show their support for steps favored by many in the tea party movement.

Before the vote, President Barack Obama said lawmakers had no more time for a vote on "symbolic gestures."

"I don't believe it was symbolic," Nugent said. "I think it's the will of the American people."

Bilirakis argued the measure would impose real limits.

"Cut, cap and balance is a strong proposal to get our debt under control and signals that we are serious about improving America's fiscal situation and changing the way Washington spends tax dollars," Bilirakis said on the House floor.

In the meantime, the bipartisan Gang of Six has been working on a proposal to reduce the federal debt by $3.7 trillion over the next 10 years.

While lawmakers expressed doubt the complex proposal could be approved by the Aug. 2 deadline to avoid U.S. default, members of both parties said there are some promising components that might be included in an overall compromise plan.

The Gang of Six proposal calls for $500 billion in immediate savings and requires lawmakers in the coming months to cut agency spending, overhaul Social Security and Medicare, and rewrite the tax code to generate $1 trillion in fresh revenue. It calls for $80 billion in cuts to Pentagon spending.

The controversial Alternative Minimum Tax would ultimately be abolished and three new tax brackets would be created, capping the individual rate at 29 percent.

"On first blush, some of the things go along with what we talked about in our (House) budget plan," Nugent said.

Among them is the closing of tax loopholes to generate revenue. Norquist told the National Journal last week that he could support the elimination of tax breaks if the Alternative Minimum Tax is eliminated.

Nugent, whose 5th District includes all or parts of eight counties spanning from Levy to Polk and including Hernando and most of Pasco, said some constituents have voiced support for closing tax loopholes but none have demanded tax increases on the wealthy.

But recent polls indicate Americans are now open to it. A Quinnipiac University poll released last week indicated that two-thirds of the public supported a deal that included spending cuts as well as tax increases for wealthy Americans and corporations. A CBS News poll released Monday had similar results.

Obama this week refused to rule out a fallback plan proposed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, that would raise the debt ceiling to $2.5 trillion through the 2012 election.

Nugent says he "absolutely opposes" that.

"We were elected to make decisions as it relates to spending in Washington," he said. "I think if you punt it back to the president, it's basically saying we're not up to do that."

Times staff writer Bridget Hall Grumet contributed to this report. Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@sptimes.com.

U.S. Reps. Rich Nugent, Gus Bilirakis stand firm on no-tax pledge 07/20/11 [Last modified: Thursday, July 21, 2011 9:43pm]

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