Reports of the death of Grover Norquist’s tax pledge have been exaggerated. The left is doing its best to make tax hikes appear to be a foregone conclusion. The pressure is now on Republicans to break their word and sign on to the old trick of approving more revenue for Uncle Sam in return for spending cuts that will never happen. The Grand Old Party shouldn’t fall for this gimmick.
Some weak-kneed Republicans such as the senior senator from South Carolina appear to have caved. “Lindsey Graham said he would be willing to eliminate deductions to raise taxes if Democrats give him fundamental entitlement reform,” said Mr. Norquist in an interview Monday. “How likely is that after four years of Democrats refusing?” The founder of Americans for Tax Reform explained the scenarios for hiking taxes aren’t realistic with Republicans, saying, “I will give you X for a silver unicorn” but “you haven’t given away X because there are no silver unicorns.”
Lawmakers who take the Taxpayer Protection Pledge promise their constituents they’ll oppose raising marginal tax rates and the elimination of deductions, unless matched dollar for dollar with lower rates. Many of the defections are reported without the full context. “If the press tells you some Republican wants to raise taxes, don’t trust and do verify,” said Mr. Norquist.
MSNBC, for example, posted a story Monday about House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s interview on “Morning Joe” with the headline: “GOP leader backs off Grover’s tax pledge.” Not quite. The Virginia Republican actually said, “When I go to my constituents who re-elected me, it’s not about that pledge. It’s really about trying to solve problems.” The story left out Mr. Cantor’s statement that his majority was “not re-elected to raise taxes or increase marginal rates,” but to spur the economy.
Also on Monday, Sen. Bob Corker told Charlie Rose on CBS’ “This Morning” that he was “not obligated on the pledge,” but the Tennessee Republican proposed his own plan to raise revenue by capping deductions at $50,000 while using chained consumer price index to slow the growth in entitlements.
Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss did say last week that he would not abide by the pledge, but he followed up with a tweet on Monday that he opposes tax increases. Asked on Sunday what he thought about this, Rep. Peter King, New York Republican, told NBC’s David Gregory that the pledge he signed when elected was only for that Congress. Americans for Tax Reform is clear that the commitment to taxpayers is for the duration of a lawmaker’s tenure in the office to which he is elected.
Accounts of Mr. King’s apostasy usually omit his statements opposing tax increases and his “faith” that House Speaker John A. Boehner will do all he can to avoid a rate hike. ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked Mr. Graham twice about his commitment to the pledge. The South Carolina Republican said he would be willing to cap deductions and not lower rates in exchange for paying down the debt and serious entitlement reform.
Americans who voted for their congressman or senator for his promise to oppose tax hikes may feel deceived by the handful of squishy Republicans highlighted on television. They’re right to be cautious, but right now the rumors appear to be overblown.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.