Political Notebook

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Hoosier lawmakers ahead of GOP colleagues on tax question

Four Republican congressmen have made news in recent days by saying they no longer feel bound by a promise they made to not raise income taxes.

Sens. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Rep. Peter King of New York have publicly wavered from their past support of Grover Norquist's "Taxpayer Protection Pledge."

They were beaten to the punch by a couple of Indiana colleagues who had signed the pledge. Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., said at an August appearance in Bluffton that he is not opposed to increasing tax revenue if the federal government cuts its spending dramatically.

And more than a year ago, Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, joined 99 other House members in signing a letter stating that "all options" should be considered to curb the rising national debt – although Stutzman later said he could not endorse a tax-rate increase.

In all cases, GOP lawmakers are parting with Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform, on whether the elimination of a tax break is the same thing as a tax increase. Republicans are resisting Democratic proposals to raise tax rates for the wealthy, but they seem willing to ditch some tax credits for businesses and people.

"It's how you define tax increase," Coats said in a recent interview. "There needs to be a combination of spending cuts, entitlement reforms and revenue. The issue is, 'How do you gain that revenue?'"

Coats and Stutzman have said they could back tax-code changes that preserve or reduce current income tax rates while capping, cutting or eliminating tax breaks.

"Taking away incentives, subsidies – I don't argue that's a tax increase. It shouldn't have been there to begin with," Stutzman said in a recent interview.

He mentioned as an example tax credits for alternative and renewable energy sources and for energy conservation, such as homeowners who buy energy-efficient windows.

"I understand the idea of incentivizing good behavior, but that could be done at the state and local level," he said.

Coats said: "Republicans would be much more willing to address the revenue side if they saw some real commitment (by Democrats) to eliminating the bloat and the excess spending. So those have to go hand in hand."

Unlike Coats and Stutzman, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., did not sign Norquist's pledge. Neither did his successor, Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-2nd.

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