U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell's decision to no longer stand by a pledge never to vote for a tax increase is drawing a mixed reaction from his supporters and the anti-tax tea party movement, but many feel his stance will not be a major blow to his re-election effort.
"He's going against the will of the tea party. I think it's a bold step," said Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms, a Republican supporter whose city makes up most of the state's 2nd Congressional District. "It will hurt him with the far right, but I have great faith that he can explain why he's done it."
Rigell said last week he can no longer abide by the Americans for Tax Reform pledge to oppose any effort to raise income tax rates or to reduce or eliminate any tax deductions or credits unless those increases are matched dollar for dollar with tax cuts in other areas.
Rigell said solving the nation's budget imbalance, which is adding trillions to the national debt, will require new revenue as well as cutting expenses, reducing regulations to promote economic growth, and boosting energy exploration.
Dave Donis, chairman of the Hampton Roads Tea Party, said the group has been critical of Rigell - in particular, for voting last summer to raise the debt ceiling as part of a deal to cut the budget deficit by $2 trillion over a decade.
But Donis, who met with Rigell on Friday, said the congressman has told tea party activists that by setting aside the pledge he can support eliminating tax subsidies for oil companies and some agricultural interests.
"I'm not giving him a hard time if that's what he's going to do," Donis said. "I don't think Scott is going to pay a big price for that.... Our concern is they are going to start raising revenue without making any real cuts."
Longtime GOP activist Kenny Golden, an unsuccessful candidate against Rigell in 2010, said Rigell won't get off too easy.
"That just doesn't sound right," Golden said. "I don't see how he can go back on a pledge like that. I know a lot of tea party people who are disappointed with him."
Rigell, who is seeking a second two-year term in the November election, argues that federal spending accounts for about 24 percent of the country's gross domestic product while Washington is taking in about 15 percent of GDP as revenue - the rest is covered by borrowing money. The right balance, he said, should be about 19 percent for both spending and revenue.
"I have to say this has been a personal journey of mine for several months," Rigell said Monday during a meeting with The Virginian-Pilot's editorial board.
Grover Norquist, leader of the Washington-based Americans For Tax Reform and the outspoken enforcer of the promise, said in an email that Rigell can't simply disavow himself.
"The pledge is taken by someone running for the House or Senate and is good as long as that person is in the House or Senate," he wrote. "The written promise is to the people of Virginia in this case."
Norquist argued that with 238 of the 435 members of the House having signed the pledge - including the House GOP leaders - no bill that includes a tax increase will ever come up for a vote under the current Congress.
Rigell said he's not lobbying others to disavow the pledge but adds that something has to change if lawmakers are going to reach an agreement to solve the country's fiscal crisis.
"I've seen nothing that would indicate we are any closer to having a definitive resolution to our fiscal challenges that we were a year ago," he said. "Where is the basis for that hope? I don't see it."