Anti-tax man Norquist defiant at US 'fiscal cliff' edge

WASHINGTON, Nov 19 (Reuters) - Prominent American anti-tax

crusader Grover Norquist on Monday insisted that his movement

was as strong as ever and that Congress would withstand pressure

to raise taxes even if more Republican lawmakers are sp urning

his anti-tax pledge.

A vast majority of elected Republicans have signed

Norquist's "taxpayer protection pledge," launched in 1986, which

commits them to voting against tax increases, and it became a

sort of litmus test among U.S. conservatives.

But the new House of Representatives, which takes office in

January, has 16 Republicans who so far have not signed the

pledge, up from six in the outgoing Congress. One new Republican

senator, Jeff Flake, also has not signed.

Speaking on the sidelines of a Washington event, Norquist

told Reuters: "People don't always take the pledge first when

they run. A lot take it after they have been there for a while.

The pledge isn't the only vehicle for stopping tax increases."

At the event, sponsored by the nonpartisan Center for the

National Interest think tank where Norquist is a board member,

he predicted House Republicans would withstand pressure from

Democratic President Barack Obama to raise taxes.

Obama won re-election this month on a promise to raise tax

rates on the wealthiest households while extending low tax rates

for most other taxpayers down the income ladder.

He and Congress are trying to keep the country from falling

off the so-called fiscal cliff at the end of the year when some

$500 billion in tax cuts will expire and another $100 billion in

automatic budget cuts will kick in.

Democrats gained seats in the both the 100-member Senate and

the 435-member House with some Republicans softening their

opposition to raising new tax revenue.

Though Republicans were stung by their electoral losses,

Norquist said they can force Obama to compromise on tax

increases and spending cuts by using the debt ceiling as

leverage.

"The debt limit is an additional tool to explain to Obama

that he is not the king," Norquist said. "He has to go to

Congress for resources."

The U.S. Treasury Department has said it will have enough

funds to avoid the ceiling until near the end of the year, and

experts say they can use accounting maneuvers to delay the limit

beyond that.

Some Republicans have assailed Norquist for his

intransigence on tax increases. Former Republican Senator Alan

Simpson, co-chairman of the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction

commission, last week lambasted Republican supporters of the

anti-tax pledge.

"What can Grover (Norquist) do to you? He can't murder you.

He can't burn your house," Simpson said at an event hosted by

the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, an anti-budget deficit group.

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