The Wall Street Journal editorial board defends anti-tax maven Grover Norquist and buries the lede. As many fiscal conservatives do, the Journal’s board defends Norquist on the grounds that lawmakers who took the no-tax pledge must answer to voters (indisputably). Then seven graphs down comes this:
The fact is that Republicans and Mr. Norquist both face a new political reality on taxes. President Obama’s re-election means that taxes for upper-income earners are going up one way or another. The Bush rates expire on December 31 unless Mr. Obama signs an extension, and he shows no inclination to do so except for anyone earning less than $250,000 a year ($200,000 if you’re single). The question is how Republicans should handle this reality while staying true to their principles and doing the least harm to the economy.
This is where Mr. Norquist can give some ground. If taxes are going up anyway because the Bush rates expire, and Republicans can stop them from going up as much as they otherwise would, then pledge-takers deserve some credit for that. Mr. Norquist says it violates his pledge to eliminate deductions without lowering rates, but at the current economic and political moment it is also a service if Republicans prevent tax rates from going up. Speaker John Boehner deserves some leeway to try to mitigate the damage by negotiating a larger tax reform.
All the more so if Mr. Boehner can also get Mr. Obama to agree to significant spending and entitlement reform. This means more than the usual suspects of cuts to doctors and hospitals and means-testing benefits for the affluent.
In other words, Republicans don’t live in an ideal world, most especially ones who go around signing pledges without thinking through their implications. In the current world, if the choices are going over the fiscal cliff, raising tax rates or real tax reform, the answer is, duh, take tax reform.
The president is increasingly acting like, and through his congressional allies signaling, he would just as soon go over the cliff, send us into recession and break his own pledge not to raise taxes on the middle class (which he already broke with Obamacare) than forgo the opportunity to stick it to the rich in isolation. Think about that for a moment. It is breathtaking really how devoted this president is to serving up red meat to his base even at the expense of the country at large and middle-class taxpayers specifically. But that is the president the voters chose and now they have him.
If House and Senate Republicans manage a 1986 tax reform/Simpson-Bowles plan (anyone like a top marginal rate that begins with a “2”?), some serious entitlement reform and a sequestration replacement for “devastating” national security cuts, then fifty lashes with a wet noodle for breaking the pledge. . . and then a ticker-tape parade for achieving fiscal miracles while defending core conservative beliefs.