Republican lawmakers are bailing on the formal pledge they made not to vote for a tax increase.
Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge has been a sacred and unchallenged keystone of the Republican platform for more than two decades, playing a central role in almost every budget battle in Congress since 1986. But Norquist and his pledge, signed by 95 percent of congressional Republicans, are now in danger of becoming Washington relics as more and more defectors inch toward accepting tax increases to avert the “fiscal cliff.”
On Monday, Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) became the latest in a handful of prominent Republican lawmakers to take to the airwaves in recent days and say they are willing to break their pledge to oppose all tax increases.
“I’m not obligated on the pledge,” Corker told CBS’s Charlie Rose. “I made Tennesseans aware, I was just elected, the only thing I’m honoring is the oath I take when I serve when I’m sworn in this January.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) also suggested Monday that Norquist’s anti-tax pledge would not dictate the GOP’s strategy on the fiscal cliff, raising questions across Washington about whether Norquist’s ironclad hold on the Republican Party has loosened. . . .
Even House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) expressed dismay with Norquist’s pledge and his role in the GOP at the time. . . .
Last November, 100 House members, 40 of them Republicans, wrote a letter to Congress’s deficit-reduction “supercommittee” urging it to consider all options — a vague pronouncement that, at least in theory, endorsed tax increases forbidden by Norquist. A number of House members, including freshman Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.), said openly that they no longer felt bound by the pledge they had signed when running for office. Rigell was reelected this month. . . .
And now, with severe cuts in line if Congress doesn’t reach a deal on the fiscal cliff, coming to an agreement is paramount. Analysts have a hard time forecasting a deal that doesn’t include tax increases — especially after President Obama won reelection, having run in large part on letting tax cuts for the wealthy expire.
Some Republicans are bowing to that version of reality. Over the weekend and on Monday, Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) and Corker (Tenn.), along with Rep. Peter T. King (N.Y.), said they would be willing to violate the pledge under the right circumstances.
Now I can agree that it is foolish to bind oneself in a pledge like this. There may well be a time when it is in the republic’s interest to raise taxes. Perhaps this is such a time. But it is still highly unethical to violate one’s word. (And how about Scott Rigell not feeling bound by the pledge because he made it while running for office? As if campaign promises, by definition, don’t need to be kept!)
But if lawmakers no longer believe in what they once pledged, they still are obliged to keep that pledge. The honorable course of action would be to resign their office so that their governor can appoint someone who has not made the pledge.