The political world is abuzz with talk of Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform’s downfall. Publicly, Norquist expresses confidence that the pledge’s signatories will hold firm. As he is wont to say, this isn’t his first rodeo — and people have been calling for the end of the pledge for a very long time without success. He recently told BuzzFeed that, “we went through all of 2011” hearing how the debt ceiling would mean “the pledge was going to be broken,” which of course it was not. And there are strong reasons to suspect that Norquist and ATR will emerge from this latest bout unscathed once again.
But there are also reasons to think that this time is different. Here are 4 reasons why ATR’s pledge might be toast.
- The election. It’s a truism that “elections have consequences,” and 2012 was no different. President Obama won reelection convincingly while explicitly campaigning on a promise to raise taxes on the wealthy. While the concept of an electoral “mandate” is a slippery one, if it is possible to get one, Obama has it on the issue of taxes. Moreover, fresh off victories in both houses of Congress, congressional Democrats aren’t likely to feel like compromising, either.
- The polls. A large majority of Americans want Congress to solve the fiscal cliff through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. A recent CNN poll reaffirms this feeling, with 67% in favor of a solution which includes tax increases. That’s a pretty clear majority.
- The blame. That same CNN poll found that 45% of Americans would blame congressional Republicans for a failure to avert the fiscal cliff while only 34% would blame President Obama. A Pew poll taken right after the election found an even worse result for Republicans, with 53% saying they would blame Republicans in Congress and only 29% President Obama. Given the fiscal cliff’s enormous impact on our economy (it’s likely to tip us into a recession), being blamed for it is not something Republicans want to deal with.
- The moment. When Norquist says that this isn’t his first rodeo, that’s very true—he’s been running ATR for a long, long time with great success. But the nation has never been in as dire financial straits as it is right now. Given the enormity of our fiscal challenges and the consequences should we fail to address them, it’s safe to say that the paradigm has shifted in ways that simply didn’t hold true prior to the Great Recession. Put another way, the gargantuan nature of our problems will force lawmakers to consider policies which they never would have embraced in the good years. Tax hikes are one of these.
None of this is to say that Republicans will vote en masse to raise taxes. A whopping 93% of House Republicans have signed Norquist’s pledge and all GOP lawmakers look back on George H.W. Bush’s “read my lips” lesson from 1992 with fear. But after having narrowed the GOP majority in the House and expanded their majority in the Senate, Democrats won’t need to pick all that many Republicans off in order to get their way. We may see a similar scenario to the Bush tax cuts, when Republicans were able to win over a few Democrats to get that policy over the finish line.
As a final note, check out this tweet from Erick Erickson, a prominent conservative activist.