For some two and a half decades, the Taxpayer Protection Pledge sponsored by Grover Norquist and his organization, Americans for Tax Reform, has carried a heavy influence in Washington.
A vast number of Republicans including 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney have signed the pledge, vowing not to raise marginal income tax rates for individuals and businesses.
Out of the current congressional Republicans, only six senators and four representatives have not signed the pledge.
But the reign of Norquist and his pledge may be coming to an end, as some GOP politicians distance themselves from the promise. Facing tough budget negotiations with the White House and Democratic legislators to avert the fiscal cliff — a series of tax-cut expirations and spending cuts scheduled to go into effect beginning in January — some Hill Republicans have expressed a willingness to break the pledge to bring in more revenue.
Heavy hitters Sens. Lindsay Graham and John McCain said they would be willing to raise taxes on the richest Americans to work out a budget deal, as did Reps. Peter King and Tom Cole; a number of incoming Republican freshmen have also refused to sign the pledge.
Nevertheless, top Republican John Boehner, the speaker of the House, has stood firm in his insistence that taxes should not be raised — even on the top 2 percent income earners as has been proposed — to solve the budget crisis.
Other pundits have noted that even if Republicans and Democratic legislators do end up agreeing to raise taxes, Norquist's pledge makes it at a high political price that may cost some vulnerable GOP congressmen their seats in the 2014 election.
Is Grover Norquist's tax pledge losing its effectiveness?
Republicans Who Renege on Tax Pledge Will Not Be Re-elected
In recent days, there has been a steady barrage of editorials and articles attacking Grover Norquist — which would not be happening if his effectiveness was waning. In the mid-1980s, in a struggle over the size of the budget, President Ronald Reagan made a compromise agreement with Democrat House Speaker Tip O'Neill to increase taxes one dollar for three dollars of spending reduction.
The Republicans went along with the tax increases, but the Democrats failed to deliver on the spending cuts.
This failure, due to the fact that Republicans tend to be more concerned about deficits than Democrats, led to the put-down, "Republicans are the tax collectors for the welfare state."
No one more than Norquist understood that the Republicans would be doomed politically if they continued to vote for tax increases to fund the programs of big-spending Democrats. Norquist also understood that tax increases impede economic growth and encourage even more government spending. His solution was the no-tax-increase pledge, which most Republican primary voters quickly approved.
The tax-and-spend program President Barack Obama is proposing will lead to continued economic stagnation, or worse. Any Republican member of Congress who votes for tax increases in violation of his and her pledge — but does not get the necessary spending reductions and regulatory restraint in exchange in order to grow the economy — will be seen in the election two years from now as having voted for continuing economic stagnation.
At the moment, the Democrats seem unwilling to make the necessary spending cuts and regulatory changes — hence, economic stagnation.
Democrats will attempt to blame Republicans and will be helped by their media allies. So if you are a Republican office holder who will be blamed for continuing economic stagnation whether you vote for tax increases or not, why would you decide to vote to violate your tax pledge, thus inviting a primary challenge?
My guess is that few Republicans will turn their backs on their pledge in the end, and the ones who do will fall in Republican primaries. Grover, once again, will have been shown to have both his politics and economics right.
Richard W. Rahn is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and chairman of the Institute for Global Economic Growth. Read more reports from Richard Rahn — Click Here Now.