Last week, former President George H.W. Bush was asked about the anti-tax pledge circulated by Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform — a pledge which nearly all Congressional Republicans have signed — and replied, “who the hell is Grover Norquist, anyway?” Today, in the New York Times, another long-time Norquist foe took a similar shot at the pledge.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) — who has publicly feuded with Norquist about whether eliminating tax subsidies for oil companies constitutes a tax increase — wrote that Norquist is “increasingly isolated politically” due to his refusal to endorse increasing revenue to reduce the nation’s deficit:
[R]ather than forcing Republicans to bow to him, Mr. Norquist is the one who is increasingly isolated politically. […] The problem with the pledge is that it is powerless to prevent future automatic tax increases and has failed to restrain past spending. The “starve the beast” strategy to shrink the size of the federal government by cutting revenue but not spending was a disaster. Every dollar we borrow is a tax increase on the next generation.
And in a debt crisis, higher interest rates and the debasement of our currency would be additional tax hikes. In that sense, no one is doing more to violate the spirit of the pledge than Mr. Norquist himself, who is asking Republicans to reject the very type of agreement that could prevent future tax increases.
Norquist responded by saying, “When Coburn stands up and says, ‘I want to raise taxes,’ he stands alone.” (Last year, Coburn opined that his liberal colleagues are more “intellectually honest” when it comes to the deficit.)
Of course, many Republicans still cling tightly to the pledge, but a growing number are refusing to sign or breaking their prior commitment to Norquist and his organization. In fact, dozens of candidates supported by the National Republican Congressional Committee have declined to sign it.