Washington doesn't need any more hurdles than it already has in reaching a fiscal cliff deal.
But one man, and the power he holds over our elected officials, is trying to prevent a deal.
I'm talking about Grover Norquist, the founder of Americans for Tax Reform, and his tax pledge.
Norquist is both hailed and loathed for his "no new taxes pledge." It commits to never raising marginal income tax rates on businesses or individuals, and opposing any net reduction or elimination of deductions andcredits, unless matched dollar-for-dollar by further reducing tax rates.
Norquist's tax pledge has been signed by almost every Republican in office. Only four current House representatives and six senators have not signed it.
But lately, those who signed on have started to change their minds concerning the 20-year-old pledge.
You see, U.S. President Barack Obama has made clear that higher tax rates for the wealthy must be part of a fiscal cliff deal – something 95% of Republicans have pledged to oppose.
And now the need for a fiscal cliff deal has caused some high-ranking Republicans to reject the pledge, threatening to loosen Norquist's ironclad grip on the party's stance toward taxes.
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Among those Republicans is Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker.
"I'm not obligated on the pledge," Corker told CBS. "I made Tennesseans aware, 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."
Besides Corker, other Republicans such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-GA, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-VA have said that Norquist's anti-tax pledge should not dictate the GOP's fiscal cliff strategy.
"The party and conservative movement will no longer be held hostage by a Washington, D.C., lobbyist," said John Weaver, a former adviser to Sen. John McCain, R-AZ. "Obviously the party will always be the one standing for lower tax rates and more efficient government, but to compete for the right to govern nationally, party leaders must – and ultimately will – act responsibly."
So far the plan outlined by Republicans has generated additional tax revenue through tax reforms such as limiting deductions and closing loopholes rather than by raising rates.
Alan Simpson, co-chair of the Simpson-Bowles plan, hopes the pledge will not strangle Republicans into offering a less-than-ideal compromise based on what he calls an outdated political stance. Simpson even suggested that Norquist and his pledge are losing a member every day.
"He is becoming irrelevant. You can see it in his eyes." Simpson told U.S. News & World Report. "He knows the game is up because good people, of good faith, have decided instead of being Republicans or Democrats, they're Americans. Instead of being beholden to Grover Norquist and the AARP, they're beholden to the United States of America."
There might be a way, however, for Republicans to compromise on higher tax rates and abide by the pledge.
Some Republicans have suggested that allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for the wealthiest 2% of earners would not really be a violation of the pledge. Their argument is that they are not technically voting for a tax rate increase, but rather they're not voting to extend the cuts.
Either way, it's likely higher tax rates are coming, whether the country goes off the fiscal cliff or if a deal is reached that includes higher rates. And if that's the case Republicans will have to decide to either stick with their man Grover, or do the unthinkable: Support higher taxes.
We want to hear from you: While avoiding the fiscal cliff has been the focus of Washington's talks, some voices are speaking up against a deal. They say going off the cliff would force the United States to focus on much-needed fiscal discipline. Do you agree – is going off the cliff actually good for the U.S.? Or are the consequences far too damaging? Let us know here.
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