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Editorial: Cracks arise in anti-tax pledge near fiscal cliff

Published 8:57am Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Amid those platefuls of turkey, crowded stores and tree-topped cars this weekend, perhaps you missed a couple of subtle-but-important developments regarding America’s fiscal cliff.

Between Wednesday and Sunday a couple more Republican U.S. senators announced they are willing to break the vaunted “no new taxes” pledge started 20 years ago by Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform. Signing and sticking to the pledge has become a GOP mandate for holding federal office.

The announcements by Georgia’s Saxby Chambliss on Wednesday and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham on Sunday are important both numerically and politically. Kudos to these elected officials.

Numerically, The Christian Science Monitor reports their statements bring to six the number of Republican senators willing to dump the pledge. Translated to the Senate floor, that may mean Republicans no longer have the votes to sustain a filibuster of any deal that includes tax hikes. In other words, legislation on tax hikes could come to a Senate vote. And because Democrats control the Senate, such a measure could very well pass.

Politically, their voices add to a small-but-growing chorus of Republican House and Senate members who publicly state they know that getting the federal government out of its budgetary mess means crafting a solution involving spending and revenues. (Read taxes.)

Other key Republicans include Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, John McCain of Arizona, Mike Crapo of Idaho, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. On the House side, New York Republican Rep. Peter King also said Sunday he is willing to break his pledge.

Among Minnesota’s congressional delegation, Reps. Michele Bachmann, Chip Craavack, John Kline and Erik Paulsen have signed the pledge. Craavack lost his re-election but is part of the lame-duck congressional class that must chart America’s course around or over the fiscal cliff — $536 billion in long-standing federal tax cuts for families and businesses that disappear and an automatic $1.2 trillion in spending cuts that begin on Jan. 1.

Let’s be clear. Promises and pledges to special-interest groups, especially those made upward of 20 years ago, are among the core causes of political polarization in Washington, D.C. They also have been a huge factor in creating this budget mess. Continue adherence to them will mean more dysfunction while further delaying the painful choices federal lawmakers have to make to do what’s best for America.

Ultimately, Graham of South Carolina said it best Sunday on “This Week” on ABC: “I will violate the pledge, long story short, for the good of the country, only if Democrats will do entitlement reform.”

— St. Cloud Times, Nov. 26