GOP inaction means higher taxes
The author is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
Thanks to Republicans who signed Grover Norquist’s pledge never to raise taxes, your taxes are automatically scheduled to go up in January — unless you are a plutocrat.
The law that created the congressional super committee set a target of this week for reducing budget deficits. The committee failed to meet the target.
Republican members were willing to cut programs that benefit millions, but they would not raise taxes on the hundreds of thousands of families whose annual income is in the millions and, in a few cases, billions of dollars.
So barring a mad scramble to pass new laws in the next six weeks, workers will pay around $110 billion more in payroll taxes next year and they will not get a $55 billion tax cut proposed two months ago by President Barack Obama. Absent another last-minute fix, more than 22 million families will be required to pay higher income taxes due to the Alternative Minimum Tax, some only because a parent or child has cancer or some other costly medical need.
How can that be? Isn’t the pledge of Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform an ironclad vow never to raise any taxes anywhere anytime?
That’s how Norquist sells it, but the facts show otherwise.
In practice it is a pledge to protect every tax favor and loophole corporate lobbyists have slipped into the tax code and only to raise taxes on the working poor, workers generally, and on industrious teenagers who get a job, start a business or were given money in a fund to pay for college.
Don’t take my word for it. Republican Judd Gregg, a former senator from New Hampshire, wrote an opinion column describing the Norquist pledge as a “political fraud.”
Gregg asserts a need to cut Social Security and Medicare. But he says Congress must also address taxes.
Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform “needs to be given a scarlet ‘A’ for disingenuous and deceptive practices in pursuit of contributions from unsuspecting but sincere Americans,” Gregg writes.
The pledge “is little more than a stalking horse for the protection of tax breaks and special interest deductions inserted into the code over the years through effective lobbying by the narrow groups who benefit from these tax benefits,” Gregg continues. This hampers the economy, economic growth and revenue, he adds.
Strong as that sentiment is, it does not go far enough. I think those taking the pledge violate their oath of office.
Representatives and senators pledge “true faith and allegiance” to the Constitution, vowing that they take this “obligation freely, without any mental reservation.”
Pledge signers cannot serve two masters, Norquist and the Constitution. Politicians who do not renounce their pledge of allegiance to Norquist do not deserve to hold office as it prevents them from doing whatever is in the country’s best interests.
NOT REALLY TAX INCREASES?
The power to tax is the very first power we grant our Congress. An inability to tax was the primary reason the first American republic, under the Articles of Confederation, failed. This power is virtually unlimited, except for the prohibition on taxing exports.
The Norquist pledge is so flexible that in 2006 Republicans sponsored, and President George W. Bush signed, a retroactive income tax rate increase on teenagers who invested money from jobs, small businesses or gifts so they could pay for college.
Norquist told me at the time he had been unaware of this tax increase and he would look into it. He did exactly nothing.
Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, who sponsored the tax hike, insisted it was not a tax increase and that retroactivity was entirely appropriate. Grassley reasoned that his bill was really a loophole-closer because much of the benefit of lower taxes went to the children of high-income parents.
That is how it works with lawmakers who act with a mental reservation after taking the Norquist pledge. If it’s the working poor, or working teenagers, the pledge does not really apply because those tax increases are not really tax increases, but undo temporary cuts or close loopholes.
Of course the Bush tax cuts were also temporary, but why bring up that inconvenient truth?
And, as former senator Judd notes, when it comes to closing loopholes that make the tax system inefficient and unfair, the pledge does apply, to the country’s detriment.
Norquist’s pledge has only one ironclad assurance: so long as his acolytes can block changes in the tax code, the richest among us will never pay higher taxes.