Setting aside the stridency and presumptuousness of his tone, Grover Norquist’s position on tax increases have for far too long been out of sync with the reality facing the U.S. economy with respect to the country’s debt and deficit. Increasingly, those who have signed his “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” are seeing the box they have locked themselves into and are looking for ways to wriggle out. Good for them, and the potential for movement on the impasse that has the so-called fiscal cliff looming large on the horizon.
Norquist’s lobbying group, Americans for Tax Reform, has since 1986 asked candidates for office to sign a pledge, customized for the position each candidate seeks, affirming their commitment to, “One, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and, two, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”
The pledge does not leave much room for discussion, let alone debate or compromise. As such, it is hardly the stuff solutions are made of.
Such a promise can have little effect when only a few lawmakers commit to it, but with the tea party’s rise in 2010, the pledge played an important part in ensuring gridlock on the debt-deficit discussions that stymied lawmakers in the 112th Congress. With this month’s election results clearly showing that Americans are not convinced that slashing spending is the only way to resolve that impasse, Norquist’s pledge is becoming less forceful, less binding and less relevant to the task at hand – which virtually all lawmakers now recognize as being action, not entrenchment. Several lawmakers who had previously signed the pledge are distancing themselves from it, and rightly so. They are, after all, beholden to their constituents first and foremost – not Norquist. – and as Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia, said on NPR: “You have a president who has campaigned twice now on raising taxes and he’s gotten elected twice on that being part of his platform.” While Chambliss went on to say that he disagrees with tax rate increases as being the sole means by which revenue can grow, his comment reflects the political reality that has dawned on many in Washington, D.C.
The path around the fiscal cliff will require some measure of give and take from all sides of the debate. That is unlikely to look the way Norquist imagines it: Democrats give on all spending cuts and Republicans hold firm on all tax rate, loophole or deduction discussions. Instead, everyone will have to bleed some – just how much remains to be seen, and will be a direct function of the deal-making prowess demonstrated by the White House and House and Senate leaders. Norquist’s role in the debate is peripheral, at best, and that is as it should be. Lawmakers have had far too long to grandstand, sidestep and avoid progress. The grown-ups involved recognize this and appear to be negotiating in earnest. Those who refuse to budge from ideological but nonactionable positions do not belong at the table at this point. Voters have insisted as much.