Grover Norquist’s pledge becomes a liability for GOP

‘Nobody’s turning on me,” antitax activist Grover Norquist insisted Monday, but the evidence is suggesting otherwise: To their credit, Senators Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and several other senior Republicans are walking away from Norquist’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which has hamstrung serious budget negotiations in Washington for years. It’s a welcome acknowledgement that opposing any net income tax increases regardless of the circumstances, as Norquist’s pledge requires, renders any serious effort at deficit reduction impossible.

Norquist rolled out his pledge in 1986, when maximum marginal income tax rates of 70 percent were still a recent memory. But today, the maximum rate is 35 percent. Meanwhile, the United States has in the last decade fought two wars without seeking additional funding, and is still recovering from the worst recession in half a century. Reagan-era fiscal policies need not be binding now, as key GOP lawmakers are now explaining. “I care more about my country,” Chambliss declared last week, “than I do about a 20-year-old pledge.”

Many on the left suspect these Republicans are operating cynically; they’ll toy with accepting higher revenues, this logic goes, only to revert to a hard-line antitax stance in the end. But in fact, a combination of tax increases and modest entitlement reforms is necessary to bring the budget into balance over time. And after the GOP’s election drubbing, Graham, Chambliss, and others may be making a more practical calculation: that Norquist’s pledge is hurting them and their party politically. Whatever their reasons, any disavowal of the pledge helps to improve the political climate and make a balanced debt deal more likely.