“I’m not obligated on the pledge,” Corker told CBS’s Charlie Rose. “I made Tennesseans aware, I was just elected, the only thing I’m honoring is the oath I take when I serve when I’m sworn in this January.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) also suggested Monday that Norquist’s anti-tax pledge would not dictate the GOP’s strategy on the fiscal cliff, raising questions across Washington about whether Norquist’s ironclad hold on the Republican Party has loosened.
Norquist, a zealous, self-promoting Washington icon who presides over a weekly meeting of top conservative players, has quietly amassed an extraordinary amount of power in the Republican Party without ever being elected to office. The 56-year-old president of Americans for Tax Reform is a former Reagan-era operative who launched his pledge in 1986, wheedling and cajoling so many GOP lawmakers into signing it over the years that it has become a Republican rite of passage. He keeps the source of his power, the original signed pledges, in a secret fireproof safe.
But now some Republicans are openly pining for the days when Norquist’s specter didn’t loom over their budget dealings. Among them is strategist John Weaver, a former top adviser to Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and moderate 2012 presidential candidate Jon Huntsman Jr.
“The party and conservative movement will no longer be held hostage by a Washington, D.C., lobbyist,” Weaver said. “Obviously the party will always be the one standing for lower tax rates and more efficient government, but to compete for the right to govern nationally, party leaders must — and ultimately will — act responsibly.”
This is well-worn territory for Norquist. Every time there is discussion about Republicans voting for a tax increase, his influence on the party is called into question — and somehow his influence has continued and even grown.
But the scenario seems a little different this time; this challenge to Norquist’s anti-tax orthodoxy has been building for a while. Some Republicans have been toying with the idea of making increased tax revenue part of a deficit-taming deal for more than a year. Higher taxes were a component of the framework outlined by the bipartisan fiscal commission chaired by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, and they were included in secret bipartisan Senate talks led by the “Gang of Six.”
Those voices mounted after the messy debate in the summer of 2011 over raising the nation’s debt ceiling, a consumer-confidence-shaking budget showdown that many Americans, according to polls, blamed on GOP intransigence.