Grover Norquist isn’t about to let Republicans off the hook on his no-tax pledge, but he seems to be getting ruffled by them. His criticism of potential pledge-breakers got personal last night:
“The pledge is not for life, but everybody who signed the pledge including Peter King, and tried to weasel out of it, shame on him,” Norquist said on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight” on Monday, adding, “I hope his wife understands that commitments last a little longer than two years or something.”
Norquist’s comments came as King and some other top Republicans said they were willing to end their commitment to the pledge as Washington scrambles to find a deal that will fend off the looming fiscal cliff. On Sunday, King said that the “taxpayer protection pledge” — first offered in 1986 from Norquist’s organization, Americans for Tax Reform — isn’t binding today.
“Hey, if you think a commitment is not for as long as you make it for, the commitment for the pledge, as Peter King well knows when he signed it, is that as long as you’re in Congress, you will [rein in] spending and reform government and not raise taxes,” Norquist said. “It’s not for 500 years or two generations. It’s only as long as you’re in the House or Senate. If he stayed too long, that’s his problem. But you don’t tell the bank, ‘Oh, the mortgage, wasn’t that a long time ago?’
“If you make a commitment, you keep it,” he continued.
As the Wall Street Journal argues today, it’s the voters, not the pledge, that Republicans will have to answer to. The problem for the GOP is that a plurality of voters do want to raise taxes on people making over $250,000, at least according to exit polls. So Republicans from moderate areas seem to face a choice between two bad options: oppose tax hikes and risk alienating voters, or break the no-tax pledge and potentially lose trust with voters.
Of course, there’s also a third way that the Journal outlines, which would require a compromise between Norquist and Republicans on tax reform. And while it would require eliminating deductions without lowering rates, it’s better than the alternatives of a.) voting to raise tax rates on those making over $250,000 a year, or b.) going over the cliff and getting blamed for tax increases across the board:
The Bush rates expire on December 31 unless Mr. Obama signs an extension, and he shows no inclination to do so except for anyone earning less than $250,000 a year ($200,000 if you’re single). The question is how Republicans should handle this reality while staying true to their principles and doing the least harm to the economy.
This is where Mr. Norquist can give some ground. If taxes are going up anyway because the Bush rates expire, and Republicans can stop them from going up as much as they otherwise would, then pledge-takers deserve some credit for that. Mr. Norquist says it violates his pledge to eliminate deductions without lowering rates, but at the current economic and political moment it is also a service if Republicans prevent tax rates from going up. Speaker John Boehner deserves some leeway to try to mitigate the damage by negotiating a larger tax reform. …
Mr. Norquist’s tax pledge has been one of the few restraints over the years against those bad Beltway appetites. Democrats demonize Grover because they know this. They want to pit Mr. Norquist against other Republicans precisely so they can dispirit the tea party grass-roots and take away the tax issue as a GOP advantage.
But this only works if the GOP appears unified on the issue. The more Republicans who attack Norquist’s tax pledge, the more leverage Democrats will think they have in getting their desired tax rate increase.