by Donna Brazile
(CNN)—Who is Grover Norquist? He’s a private citizen, a conservative lobbyist, the author of the Taxpayer’s Protection Pledge and president of Americans for Tax Reform. His idea of tax reform is no more tax increases ever again. And no closed loopholes unless matched by cuts in government spending.
In the 113th Congress, the one just elected that will begin in January, 219 of 234 Republicans in the House signed his tax pledge; in the Senate, nine of 41 Republican senators signed it. By contrast, before the 112th Congress, which is still in session, 248 representatives and 41 senators signed it. The drop in support has brought the pledge into the media limelight.
Norquist says the pledge was made to the American people. But Norquist is the sole enforcer of the pledge, which he keeps in a fireproof safe in his office. No one has dared to challenge his self-appointed role as enforcer on behalf of American voters. Until this past week.
Four Republican senators, among them South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, as well as Rep. Peter King of New York, said they would willingly ditch their pledge, in Lindsey’s words, “for the good of the country.” In an equally significant move, Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole of the Republican Whip team told House Speaker John Boehner that he thought the Republicans should join President Barack Obama and immediately pass a tax extension for 98 percent of Americans who earn under $250,000.
These declarations from Republican leaders are like political dynamite. And like well-placed dynamite, they might begin to break the logjam preventing effective leadership and legislation in Congress.
Norquist, of course, doesn’t think so.
His tax pledge has bound most elected Republicans to him for 25 years. When King said that he felt his pledge was only for one Congress, Norquist compared the pledge to marriage vows, hinting King’s wife should be worried. (I couldn’t find “till death do us part” in the pledge. But then, I’m not a Republican).
King replied that Norquist was “being a lowlife,” words that caused almost an audible gasp among Republicans. You see, Norquist’s pledge isn’t about money; it’s about loyalty.
Next to Mitch McConnell’s pledge to defeat Obama in 2012, Grover Norquist is the man most responsible for Republican lockstep voting and gridlock in Washington.
That top Republicans are willing to openly defy Norquist’s pledge and that any are willing to buck McConnell and Boehner are seminal events in recent American history. It means some Republican office holders are actually listening to what the voters said in the 2012 elections: Help the middle class, work together, stop the finger-pointing.
But McConnell and his collaborators are proceeding as if the 2012 election never happened. He and other Republican “leaders” apparently intend to extend the Republican campaign, disregarding the election and the people’s mandate. They intend to push the Republican agenda that voters overwhelmingly rejected at the voting booth and in post-election polls.
Boehner claims that Congress received its own mandate. But Republicans lost seats in the House and the Senate that they had expected to win. Besides, as Harry Truman used to say, “The president is the only elected official who represents all the people.”
John Podesta, President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff, in writing about the fiscal cliff, said, “Obama didn’t win just because of demographics: He won on the economy. … The electorate understood that a vote for Obama was a vote for policies that would help the middle class and the working poor.” Furthermore, “the public has joined the majority of leading economists in recognizing that a strong middle class, not ever more generous benefits for the wealthy, as the true engine of economic growth.”
The Peter Kings, Lindsey Grahams and Tom Coles of the Republican Party get it. There aren’t enough cuts to offset $1 trillion in lost taxes from the excessive tax breaks the wealthy were given. The alternative is to harm our national security, weaken our defenses and cause some Americans to literally go without food. The Republican budget that passed the House, but not the Senate, before the election would cut food stamps as excess spending for unemployed parents.
Extending the lesser tax breaks for 98 percent of all Americans is, indeed, a first order of business. Or as Cole said, “It’s the right thing to do.”
There is money for these things. First, though, Republicans must break Norquist’s insane hold on their party. More Republicans must put their country before someone else’s agenda, and their Pledge of Allegiance before “The Pledge” to Norquist.
It’s merely a handful right now, but it looks as if the 75 percent of voters who approved of Obama’s economic approach in exit polls to help the middle class and working poor are getting a voice in Congress.
(Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of “Cooking with Grease.” She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.)