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On Sunday several Republican would-be darlings of the liberal media signalled their willingness to raise taxes, despite longstanding unified opposition in their party and despite indications that Democrats would treat Obama's narrow election win as a major mandate and refuse spending cuts except to defense.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), and Rep. Peter King (R-NY) all said that in particular they don't feel bound to honor Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist's No-Tax Pledge that they signed. The pledge breakers are showing monumental disregard for country, principle, and party, as well as to basic negotiation strategy. They are signalling disagreement with the essential principle conservatives have used for decades to limit the size of government.
On ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, the obsequious Sen. Graham said
I agree with Grover, we shouldn’t raise rates, but I think Grover is wrong when it comes to we can’t cap deductions and buy down debt. What do you do with the money? I want to buy down debt and cut rates to create jobs, but I will violate the pledge, long story short, for the good of the country, only if Democrats will do entitlement reform.
What does Graham mean by "buy down debt"? How big a tax increase is Graham contemplating? Because we'd need a yearly tax increase bigger than our $1.2 - $1.5 trillion deficit to start paying down the national debt. Since much of the pressure surrounding the fiscal cliff comes from the desire to avoid the economic catastrophe of $450 billion in tax increases, adding another $1 trillion on top of that seems counterintuitive, to say the least.
Graham was not merely misusing the term "debt" when he means "deficit" -- witness the construction "buy down the debt." Graham is smart enough to know what he was saying. It was a deceitful attempt to convince the public that tax increases could do anything to pay down the national debt.
Graham ties his tax increases to entitlement reform, but the lack of specifics means his only condition is some words on paper that say "Entitlement Reform".
“I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge,” he 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.”
The age of the pledge doesn't matter. The Senator was elected based on the pledge in his most recent election, too. Would he have been elected had he backed away from it during his last campaign? Or, did memories of it stuck on his office door linger with voters?
Chambliss casts his decision in terms of a disagreement with Grover Norquist, but he's really arguing against the basic "starve the beast" strategy conservatives have followed for decades. Keep taxes low, according to the strategy, and you keep government inobtrusive and the people free.
Rep. Peter King buys the Chambliss line, and adds to it with his own fallacious example:
“I agree entirely with Saxby Chambliss. A pledge you signed 20 years ago, 18 years ago, is for that Congress,” King said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He continued: “For instance, if I were in Congress in 1941, I would have signed a declaration of war against Japan. I’m not going to attack Japan today. The world has changed, and the economic situation is different.”
A declaration of war is a vote, which no legislator can take back merely by changing his mind.
These pledges that candidates sign are really just campaign promises, but the fact that they are put in writing does, and should make a difference. If politicians won't keep their word when they sign their names, what use is what they say when they don't?
If Senators would like to rescind their pledges, they should do so prior to an election.
Liberal groups, meanwhile, show no signs of compromise:
“Our principles are non-negotiable and if the cost for getting the speaker of the House on board is to do something like cut taxes yet again for the rich or cut benefits to the social safety net, we are opposed,” said AFL-CIO spokesman Jeff Hauser, who added that it was better to go over the “fiscal slope” than to bend to Republican demands.
The White House for its part presented on Monday a partisan, combative, and aggressive bargaining position (PDF). According to the political posturing released with a report requred by the 2011 Budget Control Act, sequestration would harm popular programs such as the EPA's protection of clean air and water -- not its ability to implement cap and trade.
Obama continues to argue that "investments" are essential to restarting the economy, which will ultimately erase the deficit. He still thinks we can spend our way out.
On the Larry Kudlow Show, WABC-AM, Steve Moore made the case that Republicans are "crazy" to go along with any tax increase. The fragile economy doesn't have the excess output to give to government. Getting rid of loopholes without lowering marginal rates removes the means for true tax reform.
Republicans have been united in their opposition to tax increases, and have rebuilt trust among voters that they are the party of low taxes. To go along with raising them now will leave voters wondering what the party stands for -- and realizing that it doesn't stand for much.
The pledge breakers have decided that since Obama doesn't care about deficits, starving the beast is a failed strategy and we should give him the redistributionist tax policies he wants, in exchange for unspecified concessions on entitlements.
If that idea takes hold, I fear their party is finished politically, as voters will no longer see them as the party of a limited government. Their own individual fates will be sealed by their foolish abandonment of principle in favor of a moment of good press. And most of all, our country will suffer ever-bigger government and ever-higher taxes, with no one to stand athwart the beast yelling "Stop!"