As fiscal cliff looms, GOP adherence to anti-tax pledge wanes

As the lame-duck session of Congress reconvenes, several prominent Republican members of both the Senate and the House of Representatives are distancing themselves from Grover Norquist and the Americans for Tax Reform’s infamous pledge.  Citing the immense implications of allowing the federal government to hurdle over the fiscal cliff in January, lawmakers are beginning to draw the lines over what is on the table for negotiating, which now may possibly include some form of tax increases.

Norquist has been a powerful deal broker and lobbyist in Washington circles for years, and counts 39 Republican senators and 219 House members among his broad opposition to any and all forms of tax increases. Each pledge-signer’s name is displayed for the public to see on the lobbying group’s website, with some signees dating back to the pledge’s conception in the late 1980s.

Leading the exodus however has been Senators Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Chambliss had harsh words for Norquist, telling a local news station, “I care too much about my country – I care a lot more about it than I do about Grover Norquist.” This, coupled with Graham’s statement on ABC’s This Week, compounds the recent failure of Norquist’s influence in Washington. “When you're $16 trillion in debt, the only pledge we should be making to each other is to avoid becoming Greece, and Republicans – Republicans should put revenue on the table," Graham said.

House Majority Leader Republican Eric Cantor, on the set of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, also maintained the position that the pledge that he previously signed should not and would not influence how he approached the intense days of bargaining ahead. Cantor is siding with Senators John McCain, Tom Coburn, and Bob Corker, as well as Representatives Scott Rigell and Peter King, among others, in this rejection of the pledge as a guiding principle.

This view has gained traction in the weeks following the re-election of President Barack Obama, who campaigned arduously on raising the minimum tax rate of wealthy Americans, here defined as a yearly income greater than $250,000 for a family and $200,000 for an individual.

Norquist shot back . “You've had some people discussing impure thoughts on national television,” he said to CNN. While also possibly threatening to fight the re-election of GOP politicians who are up for re-election in 2014 if they violate the pledge, according to Norquist.

All of this comes as a Congressional super committee on deficit reduction nears its deadline to find nearly $1.2 trillion in budget savings in the next decade. If the group fails, either by not raising enough revenue or finding enough spending programs to cut--or a combination of the two--the country will head over the fiscal cliff. The result: taxes will go up for all Americans on Jan. 1 and budgets for the Pentagon and other federal programs will be drastically cut on Jan. 2, causing many economist and politicians to forecast economic regression and catastrophe.

More importantly, the job markets for prospective workers, and current college students, would be significantly affected. This signals that if and when a deal is reached, which both parties maintain is a likely possibility; some form of increased revenue will be included in the deal. The ultimate decision--whether it is the Democrats' proposal of higher taxes on the wealthiest or all Americans, or a Republican idea of closing loopholes and deductions across the board--will most likely be determined by the end of December.

On an aside, when Norquist is not attempting to prevent federal revenue from increasing or finding like-minded politicians, he is a part time standup comedian. Having competed three times in “Washington’s Funniest Celebrity” competition, he placed second in 2009.

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James Cody