When word spread that the three were working with Senate Democrats to design a bipartisan budget that would reduce spending, restructure Social Security, and reform and raise taxes, Norquist pounced. The three senators, he wrote, “were implicated as parties to a bipartisan budget deal containing a net tax increase.”
Norquist, the Tomás de Torquemada of tax policy, accepts no breach of his “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” a vow to never raise taxes under any circumstances. According to the ATR website, the pledge has been signed by 237 House members and 41 senators, including Chambliss, Crapo and Coburn. Torquemada, you may recall, burned thousands of non-believers at the stake in the 15th century and was fondly known as “the hammer of heretics.”
Within hours, the three lawmakers responded with a very carefully written letter of their own. “Our pledge,” they wrote, “is to protect taxpayers, not special interests. To do so we must analyze every aspect of the federal budget, including the tax code.” On the other hand, they asserted their belief that “tax hikes will hinder, not promote, economic growth.” Finally, they included the usual disclaimer: The news story that reported their participation in budget talks provided only “rumored details.”
Before the day was out, Norquist gave the three his blessing. Their letter, he said, was “very encouraging.”
Yet, Chambliss, Crapo, and Coburn (who is said to have a good working relationship with Obama) never did rule out new revenues in a consensus budget deal. And Norquist seemed uncharacteristically conciliatory. Maybe it is the near-arrival of spring, but I find this encouraging.