As fiscal cliff negotiations between Congress and the White House start in earnest this week, conservatives are under pressure to stay true to their principles. Postelection, House Speaker John A. Boehner said Republicans may give in to more revenue demands -- but not rate hikes -- as long as the package includes real spending cuts and entitlement reform. The question remains whether Democrats are willing to budge.
Since the deals are being cut behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, a leading taxpayers' advocate is calling for more transparency as a means of ensuring the GOP won't be tricked. Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform wants the negotiations aired on C-SPAN to give the public a chance to keep tabs on what's happening.
He also said the final legislation should be made available online a full week before a vote so that Americans have a chance to read it. A spokesman for Mr. Boehner said the current three-day advance posting rule should suffice.
Mr. Norquist's goal is to avoid a repeat of 1982 and 1990 budget deals in which Republicans were snookered into tax hikes in exchange for phony spending cuts. "As long as the legislation is clear, we'll be fine," Mr. Norquist told The Washington Times in an interview Tuesday.
At stake is whether President Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress will raise the tax rate from 35 percent to 39.6 percent for small businesses and investors who make more than $200,000 individually. Some moderate Democrats have suggested modifying the tax hike so it only applies to those with incomes over $1 million, but Mr. Boehner has drawn a line in the sand, saying he won't allow rates to go up because it would damage an already-weak economy. The Ohio Republican's counter-offer is tax reform that closes loopholes and deductions for those in the upper-income brackets while lowering marginal rates to spur economic growth.
Mr. Norquist is the mastermind behind the taxpayer protection pledge signed by 219 House members and 39 senators. In it, each politician promised his constituents that he would oppose all income tax rate increases and the elimination of deductions or credits, unless they are matched dollar-for-dollar by tax rate reductions. If they hold to their word, it would be mathematically impossible to pass a tax hike through the House.
"We're not playing a game where you can cut the baby in half like Solomon," said Mr. Norquist, who believes those who say there's a compromise on the horizon are simply wrong. "Here's the challenge: Democrats want higher tax rates, Republicans want lower ones. Democrats don't want to change entitlements, Republicans want reform," he explained. "Why does anyone believe you have a deal here? What you obviously have is a conflict."
The longtime political strategist predicts Mr. Obama end up keeping all the rates the same for two more years to avoid going over the fiscal cliff.
The "deficit reduction" talk coming from Mr. Obama and his buddies on Capitol Hill isn't serious. Democrats only want to raise taxes in order to spend the money they need to sustain an oversized government. The only way to start to pay down the debt and shrink government back to size is to take tax hikes off the table.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.
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