Pledges and promises

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I, _____, pledge to the taxpayers of the (____ district of the) state of ______ and to the American people that I will: ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate for individuals and business; and TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.

This morning I read this Associated Press story lionizing Republican elected officials who had signed the above pledge but were now backing out and being rather high-handed about it. The more I read the more disgusted I got.

"Oh, I signed it," Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama said on Fox News about Norquist's pledge, adding he still supports its goals. "But we've got to deal with the crisis we face. We've got to deal with the political reality of the president's victory."

How blasé. No wonder voters don't trust politicians. I guess "deal with the political reality of the president's victory" means there's no hope of spending reductions or entitlement reform, which means responsible Republicans need to resign ourselves to becoming the tax collectors to fund the Democrats' spending spree. The Dems get all the love for the out-of-control spending, the Reps take all the flak for betraying their party's most loyal supporters.

"I'm not obligated on the pledge," [Tennessee Sen. Bob] Corker told CBS News. "I was just elected. The only thing I'm honoring is the oath I take when I serve when I'm sworn in this January."...

Rep. Peter King of New York told Sunday's "Meet the Press" on NBC that the pledge is good for a two-year term only.

"A pledge you signed 20 years ago, 18 years ago, is for that Congress," King said. "For instance, if I were in Congress in 1941, I would have signed a support of declaration of war against Japan. I'm not going to attack Japan today. The world has changed, and the economic situation is different."

So here's the game: When you're a candidate for an open seat, competing against other Republicans in a tight race, you sign the pledge either to give yourself an edge over your rivals or to neutralize an advantage your rivals have over you. You sign the pledge because voters care about the issue. You sign the pledge because if you don't, your opponents will run ads saying you won't pledge not to raise taxes, and you will lose the primary.

But then, once you're in office and you have the power and fundraising capacity that comes with incumbency, you can easily frighten off potential rivals and get re-elected without taking the pledge. Then you can claim that the pledge is no longer valid because it wasn't taken for this election cycle.

The AP reporter and most of the pols quoted in the story seem to want to make it all about Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform. I'm not a huge fan of Norquist, but he isn't the issue. Sure, he promotes the pledge and makes sure every candidate for federal office is confronted with the opportunity to sign it. But the politicians who sign it aren't afraid of Norquist. They're afraid of the voters who will reject them if they fail to sign. And if a politician repudiates the pledge, he isn't sticking out his tongue at Grover Norquist, he's mooning all of the voters who backed him because of his promise to oppose increasing the size of government.

Washington politicians will spend every dime we send them and trillions more besides. The answer is not to send them more money; it's to get them to spend less. That's the point of the second half of the pledge.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 28, 2012 12:19 AM.

Is our state in a fiscal death spiral? was the previous entry in this blog.

Nicolae Ceaucescu cheated and stunk at volleyball is the next entry in this blog.

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