One of the fundamental responsibilities of Congress is to set tax policy, and over the years the Republicans in that body have abdicated their responsibility and put themselves in a box by signing anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist’s no-tax pledge.
It was always a fantasy to think that the federal government could function without ever raising taxes. And now, with the country deep in debt and on the edge of the “fiscal cliff,” reality is starting to sink in. A small number of GOP lawmakers, including local Rep. Chris Gibson, are renouncing the pledge. That’s not the same, or as good, as publicly recognizing the need for a tax increase, but it’s better than the old, simple-minded resistance.
In fact, Gibson says he still opposes raising tax rates for individuals and calls for closing loopholes and limiting some deductions in the tax code. That was what Mitt Romney was pushing in the election (although with no specifics), and doing so would indeed raise more revenue.
But not nearly enough, at least without savaging needed programs like Medicaid and Social Security. Or without drastically reducing or eliminating tax breaks such as the deduction for mortgage interest and state and local taxes, which would be a big hit on the middle class. And, with Norquist’s pledge, loophole closing and deduction limiting wouldn’t help much because any new revenue would have to be offset by a reduction in tax rates.
Norquist, predictably, is also in favor of making the Bush-era tax cuts permanent. President Obama won the election on a promise to extend the Bush tax cuts for those making less than $250,000 a year, but to raise taxes on higher-income earners.
If Republicans hold fast to their pledge, the Bush tax cuts will expire at the end of the year, raising taxes not just for the wealthy but also for the middle class (around $2,200) — the last thing they or the struggling economy need.
But that’s just one of the undesirable consequences, including across-the-board spending cuts, that would result from laws that Obama and the Republicans have negotiated over the last two years to reduce the deficit and the debt. Collectively, they are known as “the fiscal cliff.”
What the country needs is what it has always needed: a comprehensive, balanced, bipartisan deal that will contain spending over the long term while providing sufficient tax revenues. It’s called fiscal responsibility, and Republicans used to be in favor of it. That would be a pledge worth signing.