There are plenty of reasons for the seemingly impenetrable gridlock that’s choked action in Congress in recent years. But one big obstacle is eroding away, offering optimism for an agreement on the budget and other important legislation.
In recent days, several prominent Republicans have said they no longer feel bound by pledges they signed in the past to oppose any and all tax increases.
The group includes House Speaker John Boehner — whose GOP caucus controls the House — as well as South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss and others.
Publicly freeing themselves of the inflexibility of the no-tax pledge is a powerful statement of their willingness to put the country’s needs ahead of politics and a clear break from a man named Grover Norquist.
If the name isn’t familiar it’s because Norquist isn’t an elected official, but the head of Americans for Tax Reform, the group that for two decades has pressured hundreds of Republican congressional candidates — as well as many in state legislatures — to sign the no-tax pledge.
The pressure was significant, with many GOP candidates feeling they had no choice but to sign the pledge if they had any chance of making it through the early nomination process where a small group of party activists held sway.
Norquist’s stranglehold on the party has come to an end.
As Republican political strategist Matthew Dowd said on a Sunday news program: “Grover Norquist is an impediment to good governing.”
The break from the pledge comes just in time as quick negotiations are needed to pass budget legislation by the end of the year to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff. Without a deal, a catastrophic combination of tax hikes and spending cuts kick in on Jan. 1.
Now it’s time for President Obama and the Democrat-controlled Senate to step up and do their part by showing they will pass serious legislation that will bring painful, but necessary, changes in entitlement spending, including Medicare and Social Security.
While Medicare will almost certainly require cuts, Social Security has some options for revenue gains, such as raising the retirement age and increasing or removing the cap on social security taxes.
And Democrats also need to provide assurances to Republicans that additional tax revenues will be used for deficit reduction, not simply increased spending.
A detailed budget that accomplishes long-range reforms, revenue increases and entitlement and spending cuts won’t realistically be accomplished by the end of the year, with a lame-duck Congress. But both sides can pass legislation that will head off the looming threat of the fiscal cliff while also creating a general framework for a bigger budget deal to be passed by the new Congress.