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Cramer says he'll stick to GOP anti-tax pledge

FARGO - Kevin Cramer is an avid spectator in the fiscal cliff negotiations unfolding in Washington as President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans spar for advantage.

Unless the lame duck Congress can agree to a budget deal by the end of the year, Cramer will find himself in the middle of the fray as North Dakota's new congressman after he is sworn in Jan. 3.

He'll join an overwhelming majority of Republican members of Congress who have signed a pledge vowing not to raise taxes. According to Americans for Tax Reform, only six House Republicans haven't signed the pledge of Grover Norquist's anti-tax group.

On Friday, as Cramer was waiting to learn where his office will be, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, the House majority leader, declared a stalemate as Republicans rejected the president's opening offer.

If anything, the mood was even more sour among Senate Republicans, where Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., reportedly laughed when he heard Obama's proposal, which includes income tax rate increases for top earners.

"I'd say both sides are cemented in from a starting point," Cramer said.

Obama won re-election campaigning to raise taxes on the wealthy, while Republicans kept control of the House by promising not to raise taxes.

"People elected a divided government," Cramer said, though he added voters also expect their leaders to solve the nation's deficit and debt problems.

"While it looks like two rigid sides, you have to start somewhere," he said.

As for Cramer, he said he is sticking to his promise not to raise taxes - a pledge outgoing Rep. Rick Berg also signed.

"Right now I oppose tax rate increases," he said. "I don't think our economy can take it. I was elected on this issue. I feel people expect me to live up to these things."

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., is one of only seven GOP senators who haven't signed the pledge, but he is against raising income tax rates.

Still, Hoeven added, "I think we can definitely get to a deal."

He favors a solution that would reduce $4 trillion over 10 years with a mix of spending cuts and tax and entitlement reform.

Democrats and some independent budget analysts have argued that tax reform - eliminating certain deductions and loopholes - cannot raise enough revenue to tackle the deficit and debt.

Hoeven and Cramer disagree, and said getting control of spending also is required.

"The real revenue comes from economic growth," Hoeven said. "We must have pro-growth tax reform that stimulates growth. There's no question we can get it."

Hoeven favors a deal that both avoids the immediate crisis - a combination of tax increases and deep budget cuts that will happen next year if an agreement isn't struck - and a long-term debt fix.

"I'm pushing for a big deal in the lame duck," he said.

Berg, who lost in a race against Heidi Heitkamp for the Senate seat to be vacated by retiring Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., did not make himself available for an interview Friday, but he issued a statement through a spokeswoman.

"Rick continues to believe that our country has a spending problem, not a revenue problem," said spokeswoman Katie Pudwill. "To get our country back on track, the path to fiscal stability must include spending cuts and comprehensive tax reform.