Rockler: Democrats, Republicans must continue to compromise to deal with fiscal cliff

Some Republicans in Congress have finally decided to abandon the idea of not raising taxes for any circumstances. Last week, the latest Republican member of Congress decided to give in. It should come as welcome news to those who think our government is dysfunctional. Instead, it shows politicians who used to stick to hardline positions softening.

Americans for Tax Reform, headed by Grover Norquist, a conservative activist, established the Taxpayer Protection Pledge in 1986. He is best known for seeking to minimize the taxes Americans pay to government. The statement asks signers to pledge to their constituents that they will never vote or support any measure to increase taxes.

But some congressmen have decided to abandon the pledge. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said “I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge. If we do it his way then we’ll continue in debt, and I just have a disagreement with him about that.” Chambliss disavowed the pledge on Thursday. He joins Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

Chambliss and others’ decision to no longer abide by the pledge sets an example. Members of both parties will need to compromise to avoid the looming “fiscal cliff.” The cliff is approximately $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts. It would cut the deficit by $503 billion through September 2013, according to the Congressional Budget Office. It would also come at the price of millions of jobs and an economy, which would start shrinking.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the cuts and tax increases would be a “substantial threat” to the nation’s economy. Without a deal, these cuts will take effect on Dec. 31.

Throughout President Barack Obama’s first term, Republicans tried to negotiate by threatening to stall economic progress. When the debt ceiling debate took place in 2011, Republicans argued strongly against letting tax rates on millionaires and billionaires increase. They chose to not raise the debt limit without a continuation of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Congress members had done without fanfare countless times in the past. They chose the debt ceiling as a symbolic way to show they were ideologically committed to not raising taxes, even if it meant causing damage to the country.

The Norquist pledge was important in the debt ceiling debate and is also important in the current debate between the two parties in trying to craft a deal to avoid the cuts. Obama and fellow Democrats say they will not accept a deal without tax increases for the rich. Many Republicans say they will not accept a deal that raises taxes on the rich.

Both parties have set high standards and a strict set of demands. Unfortunately, they will not be easy to reconcile unless they change their positions.

The move from several Republican congressmen to be open to increases in taxes demonstrates a turn in the right direction. The pledge was ideologically driven — it was not meant to put the country better off or produce better policy. Instead, it asked lawmakers to have an unnecessarily strict commitment, which could take the country’s economy down.

Whether or not the pledge actually affected debate or was just meaningless is debatable. Some of those who do not sign or disavow it fear retribution from Norquist. Instead, some congressmen might be responding to their constituents’ preferences. Whether or not the pledge is meaningful, the change in attitude toward the pledge is. It will hopefully make compromise easier if Congress intends to walk away from the cliff.

Harmen Rockler is a senior newspaper journalism and political science major. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at or followed on Twitter at @LeftofBoston.


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