Are Republicans Ready To Drop “No-Tax” Pledge?

Dave Johnson

Republicans have been holding to a no-tax pledge for decades as a strategy to undermine government. But more and more people are noticing that our schools, roads, police and fire departments, bridges, courts, food-safety system — and everything else non-military that our government does — are starting to fall apart. At the same time, Republican-created anti-deficit hysteria is starting to backfire on Republicans themselves. So are some Republicans starting to back off?

But First

Before any deficit discussion begins people should be reminded of one very important and relevant fact: When ‘W’ Bush took office we had a huge budget surplus and we were on track to pay off the entire national debt in just ten years. In other words, our country’s debt would be entirely paid off by now, and there would be no emergency at all. But Bush changed some things, and said the return of budget deficits was “incredibly positive news,” and now we have a huge deficit and debt. The cause of our deficits and debt has implications for any discussion of what can be done about our deficits and debt.

The Norquist Pledge

The Norquist pledge is a pledge that Republican politicians take promising to oppose any increase in tax rates, and any reduction or elimination of tax breaks or subsidies. This is the House version, the Senate version is the same, without a district.

Taxpayer Protection Pledge
I, _____, pledge to the taxpayers of the (____ district of the) state of ______ and to the American people that I will: ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate for individuals and business; and TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.

The purpose of this anti-tax pledge is to force a reduction in government revenue, while redistributing wealth upward. Combined with huge increases in military spending (and other spending on conservative “clients” like oil and pharma) the result is ever-increasing government deficits and debt. Since the Reagan administration conservatives have intentionally created “strategic deficits.” Conservatives believe this will “starve the beast,” making the non-military portion of government “smaller,” forcing cuts in those things conservative oppose — health care, food stamps, environmental protection and especially enforcement of regulations on corporations.

Intentional Deficits

President Reagan reduced taxes on the wealthy, while greatly increasing military spending. This left behind huge deficits, and a dramatically-increased national debt. (It also pushed income distribution up to the top few.) President ‘W’ Bush used the same formula to reverse President Clinton’s budget surpluses. This was effective and by the time President Obama took office the country had a budget deficit of $1.4 trillion in a single year!

Now, with the deficits maneuvered to be sufficiently high for use scaring the pubic, Republicans are engaged in an effort to pursue the goals of this decades-long strategy. Without mentioning that just a few years ago we were paying off the debt but cut taxes on the rich and dramatically increased military spending, Republicans have been engaged in a drumbeat that the resulting debt is going to destroy the country. Just two years after holding the country “hostage” in order to force an extension of the Bush tax cuts, they are trying to claim that huge deficits must force cuts in non-military spending, to make government “smaller.”

Is Deficit Hysteria Backfiring?

This drumbeat of deficit hysteria is working — effectively scaring the public into believing that we must place a very high priority on cutting deficits. However, this is occurring when people with very high incomes are understood to be paying very low tax rates. As a result many of the public believe that cutting loopholes and increasing top tax rates should be done before budgets are cut — if actually doing something about deficits is really the point. Many Republican politicians see that the public understands this, making it difficult for them to continue to pledge not to do it.

Huffington Post: Grover Norquist Pledge Against Taxes Attracts Fewer Republican Candidates,

Rep. Scott Rigell’s (R-Va.) message for up-and-coming Republicans would have been considered political heresy just two years ago: You don’t have to bow to Grover Norquist to win.

“My advice and counsel to ‘Young Guns’ would be to not sign the Americans for Tax Reform pledge,” the Virginia Republican told The Huffington Post. The anti-tax oath authored by conservative activist Norquist had, until recently, been signed by almost every Republican in Congress or aspirant.

It isn’t just Rep. Rigell,

Rigell is one of dozens of GOP challengers and incumbents who have declined, so far, to take the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. Their objections range from personal to political. But underneath is the belief that being locked into a pledge to never support new revenues in a debt-reduction deal is unpalatable.

Just 45 of 83 of the Republican National Congressional Committee’s current crop of so-called Young Guns have signed the no-tax pledge this election season, according to a Huffington Post analysis of pledge signatures.

The Huffington Post story discusses several other Republicans who are not signing the Pledge. (click through for more.)

Turning Point?

This could be a turning point, where drummed-up concern about deficits is backfiring on Republicans. If they are really concerned about deficits, of course they will undo the things that caused the deficits. A pledge to never raise taxes or undo loopholes is in the way of actual concern about deficits, and many Republicans understand that the public gets that.

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