“We have clear information that . . . tax cuts, especially to the super rich, has not increased any more jobs,” one man told him. “I want to know under what conditions you would be willing to consider increasing taxes, especially on those who can afford it? ”
“I just have one question for you tonight,” said another. “Did you sign Grover Norquist’s pledge to never raise taxes?” — referring to the promise that has been signed by most congressional Republicans, including Hultgren.
“Don’t you have the confidence in your own ability in Congress to make up your own mind? You need Grover Norquist to tell you?” the man continued.
It is a scene that has been repeated at town hall meetings across the country this August as Democrats make a concerted effort to use this month’s congressional recess to change a national narrative on taxes.
For years, it has been Republicans who have wanted to talk about the issue, winning elections promising not to let government take more from voters.
But since the showdown over raising the debt ceiling, Democrats have been unusually eager to embrace tax increases, gambling that voters will see the Republican refusal to consider higher taxes for the wealthy as recalcitrant and out-of-touch.
“Silence has been Democrats’ main political strategy since the mid-’90s on this issue,” said Michael J. Graetz, a professor at Columbia Law School who has studied the tax issue. “What’s happened is people’s consciousness has been raised that cutting spending may mean serious cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. And that has had at least the potential to change the politics of the tax issue.”
At the town hall in Sandwich, Hultgren, a soft-spoken fiscal conservative who grew up above his father’s funeral home and leans more toward the calming tone of a grief session than the heated rhetoric of a tea party rally, calmly explained again and again that he believes higher taxes inhibit economic growth.
“I made a commitment to my constituents during my campaign,” he said of his 2010 victory over a Democratic incumbent. “I was very clear: I said I will not raise taxes.”
As a new joint congressional committee, created as part of the recent deal to raise the debt ceiling, looks for $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction, Hultgren said he thinks that Congress must earn the respect it has lost with the public by showing it can get serious about shrinking the government.
“People say let’s raise taxes and cut spending,” said Hultgren, who voted against the debt deal. “I say let’s cut first. Let’s prove ourselves. Let’s do what we need to do.”