Grover Norquist's Pledge Isn't Dead
Republicans willing to raise taxes will face tough primary fights
November 29, 2012
I wouldn't cue up the funeral march for Grover Norquist's tax pledge. Yes, Sens. Saxby Chambliss, Lindsay Graham, and John McCain have indicated that they may break it and others are downplaying the significance of it, but the pledge isn't dead. Ninety-three percent of Republican House members continue to support it, and the pledge is written in such a way that legislators have some flexibility to work around it. If Republicans allow the Bush-era tax cuts to expire, the pledge's signatories are not in violation. They are only in violation if they vote for permanent increases. The Bush tax cuts were temporary.
What seems to escape the conventional wisdom is that the pledge has not been without GOP criticism in its over 20 years of existence. Several have said in the past that they wouldn't allow it to shackle their decision-making, but none so to the point that a critical mass of opposition grew to send it to the paper shredder.
The other thing to keep in mind is the underlying reason why some are now balking. It's not because the GOP is on the precipice of an election-triggered transformative reorganization, or that a majority of the public has said in polls that they support tax increases: It's a tactic meant to gauge public opinion. GOP leaders are floating trial balloon to see how special interests and factions of Republican voters would respond if they were to reverse course.
As of now, the reaction seems to be mixed. Some leading businessmen have said they would support raising revenue to lower the deficit, but others have remained firm. We're already seeing indications that if incumbents were to vote for higher taxes, they'd face the threat of tough primary fights in the 2014 elections. Former Georgia secretary of state, Republican Karen Handel announced earlier this week that she's interested in running against Chambliss in 2014. Even though Mitt Romney lost, the election vindicated House Republicans; there was no—as Nancy Pelosi predicted—sudden Democratic take-over of the chamber. The 113th Congress is likely to be more polarized and stubborn than the 112th.
Grover Norquist will continue to remain an influential beltway player. He's heavily connected in the party, and has a lot of inside knowledge that helps representatives win re-election. Don't expect some dramatic revision of the tax code coming out of the next month of negotiations. By the end of the year, we'll probably see some watered down version of tax increases written in such a way that Grover Norquist will happily toast in 2013.