Republicans are grappling with growing rifts in their ranks over a no-new-tax pledge that has been rock solid for more than 20 years. That quiet debate within the GOP could determine how Congress deals with its looming 'fiscal cliff.'
The sharpest struggle in the lame-duck session of Congress, which picks up again on Monday, may well be within GOP ranks, as Republicans grapple with whether to relax a no-new-tax pledge that has been fixed party orthodoxy for nearly a generation.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) of Georgia is the latest lawmaker to formally renege on the pledge. In a television interview on Wednesday, he said that he's no longer supporting the pledge because "times have changed significantly, and I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge."
Such breaks in GOP ranks could become decisive as GOP leaders negotiate with Democrats and the White House over how to resolve the "fiscal cliff," or some $600 billion in mandatory spending cuts and tax increases set to take effect in 2013.
Breaking a no-new-tax pledge can be toxic at the polls. President George H.W. Bush lost his bid for a second term after bypassing his 1988 "Read my lips: no new taxes" pledge in his budget agreement with a Democratic-controlled Congress in 1990. Since then, most GOP members of Congress and even a few Democrats have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge by Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), an antitax group.
After Senator Chambliss's announcement, ATR president Grover Norquist shot back in a statement on Friday: "Raising taxes on the people of Georgia to pay for Obama's reckless spending is not the right thing to do for America or Georgia."
"We have a problem because Washington spends too much, not because Sen. Chambliss has failed so far to raise taxes on the hard-working men and women of Georgia," he added.