After top Republican lawmakers publicly disavowed the anti-tax pledge they signed with Grover Norquist, the conservative lobbyist responded Monday during an interview with CNN saying that he and the group he is president of would “certainly highlight” who has kept their commitment and who hasn’t.” He went on to say that the promise wasn’t to him, but to the voters.
Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss said solving the nation’s fiscal woes may mean breaking the anti-tax pledge he signed with Norquist two decades ago, and he is just one of a number of Republican’s that have gone on record since President Barack Obama won reelection acknowledging that it may be time to move away from the pledge.
“I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge,” Chambliss told WMAZ-TV. “If we do it his way then we’ll continue in debt, and I just have a disagreement with him about that.” When asked about the political consequences he may face for his decision he replied “I don’t worry about that because I care too much about my country. I care a lot more about it than I do Grover Norquist.”
Chambliss said he may face repercussions from Norquist and his group when he runs for reelection in 2014, but said he was “…willing to do the right thing and let the political consequences take care of themselves.”
Norquist is the president of Americans for Tax Reform and the originator of the no-tax-increase pledge that many Republicans now say is only serving to aggravate a $16 trillion federal deficit. The Georgia Senator said the pledge has hindered meaningful progress toward finding additional revenue and a path away from the fiscal cliff.
In addition to Chambliss, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has also said he is willing to break the pledge- and he too is up for reelection in 2014. Norquist has responded with not so veiled threats, saying that lawmakers will be accountable to their constituents.
Chambliss and Graham may be the highest profile GOP members to announce their break with Norquist, but Reuters reported earlier this week that at least 16 Republicans in the new Congress have forgone the pledge, up from only six in the outgoing Congress. Sen.-elect Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) also promised to opt out, though there is some confusion over whether he had already signed the pledge as a congressman.
Norquist insists that his hold on the GOP remains strong. The New York Times reported this week that Norquist counts “219 House members — enough for a majority — and 39 senators” as having committed to the pledge.
House Republicans have in the past attempted to distance themselves from the pledge by arguing that they only committed to it for a two-year term, not for their entire congressional careers. They, like Chambliss, argue that the current fiscal crisis demands a more balanced position to deficit reduction that cannot be achieved without putting new tax revenues on the table.
But Norquist says that Americans for Tax Reform make it clear to lawmakers that it is an extended commitment when they sign.
“It’s not for a two-year period,” he said. “It’s explained to everyone when they sign, it’s in writing with them when they sign, that it’s a commitment for while you are in the House or while you are in the Senate. If you run for a different office, you take it again….[Rep. Steve] LaTourette (R-Ohio) once tried to make that case, and it doesn’t pass the laugh test.”
Norquist does not seem concerned that the recent statements from Chambliss, Graham and other GOP members will lead to a GOP reversal on tax hikes. “No pledge-taker has voted for a tax increase,” he said. His optimism is based on the fact that 95 percent of Republican Congressman signed the Tax Payer Protection Pledge (the actual name of the document) just a month ago.
While Norquist’s coalition is still strong, it may be in the early stages of developing cracks as a result of the most recent elections. At a time when the reality of the fiscal cliff and the damage going over it would do to the already slow economic recovery becomes crystal clear, all options must be on the table.
There is no doubt that, due to the results of the election, there is going to be a tax-hike on the highest income earners, and for Republicans to continue to fight the inevitable is not only fruitless-it is a waste of precious time. It is time for the GOP to concede the upper income tax increase and move on to the issues of entitlement reform, modification of the tax rates and deficit reduction.
The reality is that a tax increase on the wealthiest Americans will do little to reduce the deficit. The main driver of our debt is entitlement spending, and Republicans should stop spending what little political they have to apply it to the battle ahead with Democrats over modifications to Social Security and Medicare. Democrats have made it clear they have no plans to make modifications to either program. Continued resistance to a tax hike on the top earners only serves to weaken the GOP position on entitlement reform as well as fuel the image of Republicans as only caring about the wealthiest among us.
It is not possible to solve our nation’s economic challenges simply by higher taxes, spending cuts must be made- the Democrats have shown no desire to address spending in any serious fashion, which means the Republicans will have to put careers on the line to fight for the future of the country. As a nation we have neither the time, nor the motivation to continue the argument over tax-hikes on the “rich”- the time is now for Republicans to break away from Norquist.
Moving away from the pledge in no way means Republicans will suddenly be in support of higher taxes-it simply is a sign that the time has come to put everything on the table in an attempt to solve our nation’s fiscal challenges. Democrats must also be willing to do the same, which means entitlement reform must be undertaken.
Breaking from Norquist is the first step for the GOP in changing the general perception of Republicans, the first of many that are necessary if the two-party system is to remain in tact.
It is going to take both sides of the aisle being willing to do things against their ideology in order to achieve change that will secure our nation for the generations to follow- we need politicians from both sides to put the nation ahead of their careers if these problems are to be solved.
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