Anti-Tax Orthodoxy Of House Republicans Looks Like It’s Ready To Crack
As we approach the fiscal cliff, there are signs that House Republicans may not be as rigid as they were the past two years.
With the election over, President Obama safely in the White House for another four years, and the Democrats holding a slightly expanded majority in the Senate, attention is turning to the upcoming negotiations over the impending “fiscal cliff,” and specifically the question of what to do about the Bush Tax Cuts, there are signs that Republicans are starting to waiver on their previous anti-tax orthodoxy:
Republicans might have held the House, but Grover Norquist’s majority in Congress is all but gone.
Fewer incoming members of the House and Senate have signed the pledge against tax increases run by Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, in a reflection not only of the seats that Democrats gained but of the success they’ve enjoyed in vilifying Norquist.
About a dozen newly elected House Republicans refused to sign the anti-tax pledge during their campaigns, and another handful of returning Republicans have disavowed their allegiance to the written commitment.
With Democrats picking up seven or eight seats, that means the pledge guides fewer than the 218 members needed for a majority. In the Senate, where Republicans lost two seats, just 39 members of the chamber are pledge-signers, according to the group’s records. That is a drop from 238 members of the House and 41 senators who committed to the pledge at the start of the 112th Congress.
Norquist’s diminished clout could have ramifications during intensifying negotiations over the so-called “fiscal cliff” and a grand bargain on taxes, spending and entitlements that leaders in both parties want to strike in the coming months.
In the wake of President Obama’s reelection, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said Republicans could accept a deal that includes new revenue under certain conditions. Legislation that increases overall federal revenue could violate the pledge, which forbids its signers from supporting increases in the marginal income tax rate or the elimination of deductions and loopholes that are not offset with tax cuts elsewhere.
Some of the comments from incoming Republican freshmen who refused to sign the pledge are interesting:
“I don’t want to sign a pledge that’s going to tie my hands,” Ted Yoho, a GOP congressman-elect from Florida, told The Hill. “I need free rein to do what I think is right for the people in my district and the country.”
Yoho is no fan of taxes, calling them “a necessary evil, it appears.” He said one reason he did not sign the pledge was that he had never met Norquist. “To sign a pledge to somebody that’s not a member of Congress or part of my constituency, I don’t think would be very prudent,” Yoho said.
Susan Brooks, a newly elected Republican from Indiana, offered a similar explanation on the campaign trail, spokeswoman Dollyne Pettingill Sherman said. “She just took the position that she was not going to sign pledges,” she said. “That doesn’t mean she’s for tax increases. She’s not. She was very clear about it.”
At the height of deficit talks in 2011, Norquist faced criticism from some Republicans who said they did not feel bound by a pledge many of them took years ago when they first ran for the House. Returning Republican Reps. Mike Simpson (Idaho), Howard Coble (N.C.), Jeff Fortenberry (Neb.) and Scott Rigell (Va.), among others, all disavowed the commitment. A pledge-signer in the Senate, Tom Coburn (Okla.), also publicly battled with Norquist.
I noted on Sunday that the election results had placed Republicans in a bind on the tax issue and that they had a choice ahead of them to either stick with the Norquest view of politics or to accept the reality of their reduced bargaining position, and the seriousness of the situation we face, and make a deal that includes tax increases in some form or another. Last week, Speaker Boehner already approached that issue in his post-election press conference when he said that his party might be willing to accept revenue increases that weren’t actual increases in tax rates, which suggests an approach that limits deductions for high income earners in a manner similar to what Mitt Romney was proposing during the election. Bill Kristol went far further than Boehner on Sunday when he said that Republicans shouldn’t live or die on the issue of an increase in the marginal tax rate for wealthy people. Because of all of this the sense is building among many in Washington, that a budget deal that includes tax increases in some form may be far more politically possible than anyone had thought it could be before the election.
If the GOP does give in even an inch on this issue, it will end up being a tremendous defeat for Norquist and will likely result in an equally tremendous decline in his lobbying power on Capitol Hill. There will likely be challenges to any Republicans who vote in favor of whatever deal ends up passing in 2014, but if the plan succeeds in reducing the deficit and the economy has recovered even more, then it will be hard to unseat a Republican for a vote that took place two years in the past. Besides that, of course, there’s the fact that broad majorities of Americans, including broad majorities of Republicans, favor the idea of a budget deal that includes tax increases for the wealthiest Americans. So, one has to wonder just how damaging supporting that type of plan really would be for Republicans, especially if it turns out that the income level for the tax increases gets boosted from $250,000/year to something closer to the $1,000,000/year that Democrats like New York Senator Chuck Schumer have suggested as an alternative.
I’m no fan of taxes to be sure, and I’d prefer to not see taxes go up at all. However, we are in a serious fiscal bind in this country and we have a government that is controlled by two parties. Neither side is going to get everything they want, but they both need to come together and reach some kind of compromise that will avoid falling off the fiscal cliff. Given that stark reality, I’m not sure what’s so wrong about a deal that includes raising the marginal tax rates of people who can more than afford to pay it. Besides, politically, there really are no other options at this point unless you truly do want to jump off the cliff and, most likely, push the economy into a recession.