Students debate merits of a pledge not to increase taxes
Published: Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 23:11
Once upon a time, there was a prominent Republican politician running for office. Looking for an easy way to fire up his base, he campaigned on one of the simplest platforms imaginable: refusing to raise taxes.
While some of his advisors were afraid his insistence upon not even considering tax increases might come back to bite him later, this candidate didn’t listen. He even went so far as to sign a pledge written by Grover Norquist, the head of Americans for Tax Reform, promising that tax increases would not be on the table no matter the economic circumstances.
That candidate’s strategy ostensibly worked: he pulled ahead of his Democratic opponent and won his election. What that politician failed to account for was a flagging economy and a rising federal deficit that needed to be addressed.
Moreover, when it came time to hammer out a budget, he realized that if he couldn’t compromise with his Democratic peers across the aisle, then a set of automatic spending cuts unpalatable to Democrats and Republicans alike would kick in, causing even more harm to an already fragile economy.
This story could belong to a preponderance of newly elected Republican lawmakers in the past few years, but the person I was describing was actually President George H.W. Bush. The elder Bush is notorious for this portion of his speech at the 1988 Republican National Convention: “Read my lips: no new taxes.”
However, in spite of this promise and the pledge he signed, Bush eventually realized that if he wanted to come up with a workable budget plan, he would need to compromise and include some kind of revenue increase in his plan.
So, naturally the American electorate understood President Bush’s dilemma, commended him for abandoning an unworkable principle, extolled him for espousing genuine fiscal responsibility, and overwhelmingly elected him to a second term, right?
Not exactly. He was pilloried by critics both left and right: Republicans called him a coward and Democrats called him a liar. It’d be unfair to say that the increase in taxes was the only reason Bill Clinton defeated Bush in 1992 (I don’t want to be unfair to Ross Perot because he gives this city lots of money), but it did give his opponents a powerful talking point that the president was never able to overcome.
However, I support Papa Bush’s decision. I have little sympathy for him because he was basically asking for all the flak he got by signing Norquist’s pledge in the first place, but I respect any politician that actually does what they’re elected to do: put the needs of the country above mindless political drama. Now, this scenario seems to be repeating itself.
In an effort to avoid going over the “fiscal cliff,” some prominent Republican lawmakers like Lindsey Graham, Saxby Chambliss and Eric Cantor have seemed to relax their staunch commitment to a budget solution without any tax increases. Naturally, this has caused a metaphorical conniption for Grover Norquist. He’s criticized the lawmakers who are talking about reneging on the pledge for “discussing impure thoughts on national television.”
I find it funny that Norquist is using language that makes him sound like he came straight from the Spanish Inquisition. It just goes to show how harmful rigid ideology can be. Lawmakers shouldn’t be pledging to never cut taxes or never touch Social Security/Medicare (I’m looking at you, Democrats).
They should be pledging to do what’s best for the country. And, as unpalatable as it might sound, sometimes tax increases are the best alternative. I commend the Republican lawmakers who, in recent days, might have mortgaged their reelection bids for the sake of sanity.
Bub is a junior majoring in history, English and political science.
As Ronald Reagan famously said, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.
This is a belief near and dear to conservative lobbyist and founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist. Norquist is a Harvard educated conservative activist that has become a household name seemingly over night thanks to his tax protection pledge as it pertains to the looming fiscal cliff.
In layman’s terms, this pledge binds all members of congress who sign it to oppose any and all tax increases, holding many of them to the platforms they ran on.
What this plan says is that no congressional member that has signed it will approve any tax increases for any tax bracket or cut in deductions unless there is a corresponding decrease or deduction of equal value on the agenda.
Admittedly, as a conservative libertarian, I agree with many components of this plan, as I don’t consider it prudent to increase my investment in an ever-expanding government that is unable to balance a budget. However, more and more Republicans in Washington don’t seem to share my enthusiasm for conservative tax reform.
One of the fundamental building blocks of the Republican Party has almost always been the belief in low taxes across the board. As it sits now, 93 percent of republicans who were elected to congress this term ran on promises of lowering taxes, but in the face of the fiscal cliff and no sure way to combat the unfathomable deficit, some believe there is no other way than through tax increases.
I, along with most of Norquist’s supporters, would argue that rather than continue upping taxes on everyone, especially the wealthy, it would make a lot more sense to cut back government safety net programs and promote reform of the welfare state.