Updated at 8:35 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 26.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said he was prepared to set aside Grover Norquist’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge if Democrats will make an effort to reform entitlements, and Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) suggested the pledge may be out of step in the present economy.
“I agree with Grover — we shouldn’t raise rates — but I think Grover is wrong when it comes to we can’t cap deductions and buy down debt,” Graham said on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.” “What do you do with the money? I want to buy down debt and cut rates to create jobs, but I will violate the pledge, long story short, for the good of the country, only if Democrats will do entitlement reform.”
While it was not the first time Graham or King had opened the door to bucking the vow both have taken, their comments come as Norquist’s pledge is under increased scrutiny, with Democrats and Republicans grappling with how to rein in the nation’s debt and what to do about tax cuts that are set to expire at the end of the year.
The defections also raised the question of whether other congressional Republicans would soon follow suit. On Monday morning, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) toldCBS’s Charlie Rose that he, too, was "not obligated on the pledge."
The hand House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) plays during negotiations with the White House and the Democratic-controlled Senate will be influenced by how much his conference is willing to budge on the issue of taxes.
Norquist, who founded the group Americans for Tax Reform in 1985, has in recent years been a powerful force in GOP circles. His pledge has become a conservative litmus test for Republicans in Congress and GOP candidates hoping to join their ranks. But now, as more Republicans distance themselves from Norquist, throwing him under the bus could become a growing trend.
Last week, Chambliss drew attention when said he was willing to buck Norquist’s pledge. “I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge,” Chambliss told WMAZ-TV of Macon, Ga. “If we do it his way then we’ll continue in debt, and I just have a disagreement with him about that.”
King echoed Chambliss’s assessment Sunday. He said that while he opposes tax increases, he does not advocate taking “ironclad positions” during the negotiations between Democrats and Republicans on the nation’s fiscal issues.
“I agree entirely with Saxby Chambliss. A pledge you signed 20 years ago, 18 years ago, is for that Congress,” King said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He continued: “For instance, if I were in Congress in 1941, I would have signed a declaration of war against Japan. I’m not going to attack Japan today. The world has changed, and the economic situation is different.”
While Graham said he was open to capping deductions as a means of raising revenue, he made clear that he remained opposed to raising tax rates on the wealthiest Americans, something President Obama and congressional Democrats are demanding.
“I will not raise tax rates to do it. I will cap deductions,” Graham said. “If you cap deductions around the $30-$40,000 range, you can raise $1 trillion in revenue, and the people who lose their deductions are the upper-income Americans.”
Democrats, meanwhile, continued Sunday to press for increasing tax rates on the wealthy.
“I think the top rate needs to go up, and that’s where I may disagree with my friend, Lindsey Graham,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said on “This Week.”
Echoed Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) on “Meet The Press”: “You’ve got to raise additional revenues, including tax rates on the wealthy.”
Durbin said that entitlement reform — with certain conditions — should also be part of the conversation.
“From my side of the table, bring entitlement reform into the conversation,” he said. “Social Security, set aside. Doesn’t add to the deficit. But when it comes to Medicare and Medicaid, protect the integrity of the program but give it solvency for more and more years.”