Is it possible the election results will restore a measure of sanity within Republican ranks, leading the party to ditch Grover Norquist and his pledge to oppose all tax increases?
At least four prominent GOP lawmakers, Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Bob Corker (Tenn.), and Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) and Rep. Peter King (N.Y.), have indicated they won’t be bound during talks on avoiding the coming “fiscal cliff” by the Americans for Tax Reform pledge they signed in the past. These Republicans know that Democratic negotiators are emboldened by President Obama’s reelection; they also may have concluded, rightly, that spending cuts alone won’t significantly cut the budget deficit.
It’s not clear if these tentative steps toward accepting some sort of increase in federal revenues are the beginning of a major shift in Republican orthodoxy. So far, most Republican members of Congress have hewed to Norquist’s pledge, which stipulates opposition to increases in marginal tax rates and to eliminating deductions unless matched by corresponding decreases in tax rates.
Graham has led the charge to rethink Republican hostility to increasing revenue, telling ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, “I’m willing to generate revenue. It’s fair to ask my party to put revenue on the table. We’re below historic averages. I will not raise tax rates to do it. I will cap deductions. If you cap deductions around the $30,000, $40,000 range, you can raise $1 trillion in revenue, and the people who lose their deductions are the upper-income Americans.” Not exactly a bold move to meet Democratic insistence on restoring the upper marginal rates to their pre-Bush tax cut levels, but it’s a start toward compromise on cutting the deficit.
This is not the first time Senator Graham has had the temerity to suggest Republicans acquiesce in eliminating some tax deductions as part of a deal to reduce the nation’s debt. He did so last June, only to repent his apostasy after Norquist took him to the woodshed.
Graham’s timidity along with the squeamishness of all Republicans is rooted in history. Two decades ago, President George H.W. Bush violated his anti-tax pledge — “Read my lips: No new taxes” — and lost reelection. In recent years, congressional Republicans have seen conservative and tea party-backed candidates defeat more moderate incumbent candidates in primaries because of votes for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Current GOP officeholders fear being TARP’d if they go back on their anti-tax pledge.
Norquist believes most Republicans still cleave to the pledge. “I don’t think between now and 2014 that [any prominent Republicans] will vote for a tax increase,” he says. “I am pleased at how the modern Republican Party and the members of Congress are hanging together in opposition to being TARP’d again.”
Norquist and other hardliners are ignoring the election results. The president made raising taxes on the wealthy the central point of his campaign, and he won. Polls also show most Americans support, by a wide margin, raising taxes on the rich.
Some Republicans finally may be realizing that revenue enhancements are not only a fiscal necessity; they also may be good politics.