For years now, nobody who wanted to be a Republican in Congress could avoid the cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die no-tax-hike pledge demanded by conservative activist Grover Norquist. Refuse to sign, and they knew they might find a tea party conservative coming after them in the next Republican primary.
But the fiscal cliff, a truly scary piece of political terrain, has changed the calculus, at least temporarily. If Congress can’t come up with a fiscal plan by the end of the year, apocalyptic tax hikes and spending cuts will rain down upon the land, and every elected official risks the wrath of the people.
“I think that a number of Republicans have decided that the future will judge them by their willingness to make compromises on this issue, rather than being intransigent,” said Rutgers political scientist Ross Baker.
What a congressional rep can vote for without violating the pledge can become a little subtle. For sure, voting to raise tax rates is trouble. But what about raising revenue by closing loopholes and eliminating deductions?
According to the pledge, that’s acceptable only if there are dollar-for-dollar spending cuts to pay for the revenue increases. And Norquist tends to regard promised spending cuts as illusory.
And here’s an interesting take from Kevin Glass in The Atlantic about how, if you read Norquist’s pledge literally, you can regard letting the Bush tax cuts expire, which would of course increase rates, as permissible.
Local Republicans bend a little
So what do our local Republicans think? I contacted four: U.S. Reps. Jim Gerlach, Mike Fitzpatrick and Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania and U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan of New Jersey. All signed the pledge, and none said in response to my inquiry that their commitment to the pledge was unshakable.
Fitzpatrick (whose campaign never once returned a call of mine) didn’t respond. Runyan was clearest in saying he woudn’t be guided by the pledge. Patrick Meehan said he’s always favored more revenue. Gerlach’s spokesman responded with a statement that blamed Democrats but also said his most important pledge is to reflect his constituents’ views.
All of that is printed below.
But no discussion of our reps and the fiscal cliff is complete without this observation from Allentown Morning Call Harrisburg correspondent John Micek on his Capitol Ideas blog:
“Guess who will be front and center on the debate on the Fiscal Cliff? If you guessed U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., you’d be correct.
According to a secret plan that we totally made up just now, the Scranton Democrat has been instructed by the White House to lull opposition lawmakers into a peaceful sleep with his voice and then resolve The Cliff while they nap like babies. As nefarious plans go, it may be the most adorable one we’ve heard so far.”
What our congressional Republicans said
“While I did sign Mr. Norquist’s pledge, this pledge will not be a part of decision-making process. I firmly believe that this discussion should allow for all ideas to be on the table and open for discussion including spending cuts, entitlement reform, and increasing revenue. When we talk about revenue increases, it must be done through tax reform and not just simply increasing taxes. The nation is looking to Washington to put partisanship aside and come up with a compromise that will help us avoid this fiscal cliff.”
“The most important pledge is the one I make to my constituents when I’m sworn in. I’m going to do the very best I can to avoid the fiscal cliff and keep our economy strong. I supported increased revenues when I supported Simpson-Bowles. I supported putting more revenue on the table when I signed the letter with 100 of my colleagues urging us to ‘go big’ on a debt deal. I think we can raise revenue through tax reform and closing loopholes, and not by hiking tax rates, which will cost 700,000 jobs at American small businesses. That’s what I campaigned on this fall, and it’s that promise to my constituents that will guide my efforts to bring Democrats and Republicans together to avoid the cliff.”
“While the media focuses on pledges, the families and employers in my district are focused on finding solutions for creating jobs. I have supported a common sense approach to averting the so-called fiscal cliff that would end decades of reckless Washington spending and would generate additional revenue by modernizing and simplifying a tax code that is stifling growth and discouraging job creation.
House Republicans have been willing for more than a year to enact a pro-growth package of tax reforms that would provide additional revenue. What I have yet to hear from the president and congressional Democrat leaders is any specific plan on balancing revenue increases with meaningful spending reforms.
The president has pledged to raise taxes. We know that the tax first, work out the details later approach the president has embraced will make jobs even harder to find. Accounting firm Ernst & Young estimated that more than 700,000 jobs would be lost if we follow the president and congressional Democrat leaders down the same road of simply raising tax rates. The most important pledge that I have made has been to reflect the views of the approximately 700,000 people who entrusted me to represent this District in the U.S. House of Representatives. That is always my guiding principle when making decisions on how to deal with tax policy and every single issue that comes before the House.”