By: Jarett Lane
Like many young conservatives, I often find myself wanting to scream, “Serenity now!”, à la Frank Costanza, when I see GOP leaders refusing to compromise with Democrats – especially on taxes. The GOP has consistently stymied a debt deal on the grounds that new revenue from increased taxes is “unacceptable.” Instead, House majority leader, John Boehner, has stated the GOP’s preference to close tax loopholes as a means to increase tax revenue. President Obama and the Democrats will likely not settle for only closing loopholes, as they continue pressing for increased taxes on the “wealthiest” Americans – those with $250,000 or more in annual income.
Closing tax loopholes would allow the government to avoid hiking up tax rates – certainly a politically popular suggestion. Though closing loopholes seems like a fair idea on the surface, in reality it would probably fall short of addressing the nation’s fiscal challenges. GOP leaders fail to recognize that the closing loopholes necessary to generate sufficient revenue will hurt the middle class because many tax breaks help average Americans. It could hinder research and development, for which companies currently receive tax breaks. But most importantly, closing loopholes would be a messy, complicated process. We still don’t have any idea to which loopholes Boehner and his cohort are referring. Can we really expect what appears to be an extraordinarily dysfunctional Congress to identify and agree upon loopholes that need closing? Sure, tax reform is probably necessary and the system needs some cleaning up, but I don’t believe it is in the nation’s best interest to rush through that process.
Of course, Democrats aren’t blameless either for the debt impasse. Recall, President Obama could have run with the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles $4 trillion deficit reduction plan, but instead turned up his nose to it. The Economist has also suggested that instead of setting an annual family income of $250,000 as the benchmark for “wealthy”, President Obama and his team could offer to raise the threshold to a higher amount. Even though both sides have not shown much political savvy or willingness to compromise, Republicans feel the most pressure to strike an agreement before the U.S. reaches the fiscal cliff.
Republicans will bear the brunt of public displeasure if the fiscal cliff is not averted. Recent polls show 45% of Americans will blame the GOP (compared to only 34% blaming Obama) if the country falls off the fiscal cliff. As if Obama’s reelection wasn’t enough of a wakeup call to Republicans, the certain public backlash against Conservatives that will come from failure to compromise should spur some more pragmatic thought in the GOP war room.
Fortunately, some brave Republican souls are breaking rank. Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, and Representative Peter King of New York have broken their pledge to never increase taxes. This has GOP Puppet Master Grover Norquist a bit upset. Norquist has built himself quite an empire, non-threateningly called “Americans for Tax Reform.” Norquist’s juggernaut, which opposes all tax increases and big government, lobbies hard for major cuts in government spending. As part of his effort to prevent tax increases, Norquist has garnered signatures from 238 members of the House of Representatives and 41 Senators pledging to never approve any tax hikes. Only three of these signatures come from Democrats. The result: Norquist wields extraordinary power over Republicans in Congress; Norquist has sufficient capital to put an end to many politicians’ careers.
Indeed, Norquist has responded to recent actions by Republicans like Chambliss, Graham, and King. In a recent interview with CNN, Norquist vowed to target pledge-breakers during the 2014 elections. Further illustrating Norquist’s dangerous (and mildly creepy) hold on the Republican Party, he accused anti-tax pledge dissenters of having “impure thoughts.”
Be it because they are scared or are true believers, Conservative powerbrokers regularly pay homage to ole Grover. For example, Senator Mitch McConnell called Norquist a “soldier” responsible for the nation’s “vibrant” conservative movement. If that doesn’t show how lost the Republican Party is right now, I don’t know what does. It’s about time more Republicans follow the lead of rather pragmatic Conservatives like George Bush, Sr. and ask, “Who the hell is Grover Norquist anyway?”
The Republican Party has work to do on multiple levels if it expects to be a relevant party in the near future, not the least of which is updating its platform on social and immigration policies. However, in light of the fiscal cliff, the GOP must prioritize and quickly achieve two things: (1) compromise with Democrats on tax increases and (2) tell Grover Norquist to pound sand. If you hear me sporadically yelling “Hoochie Mama!”over the next few weeks, it’s because we aren’t making much progress on either of those fronts.