Rosalind Helderman of the Post reports the good news that some Republican candidates are rejecting signing Grover Norquist’s pledge to not raise tax.
Of the 25 candidates this year promoted by the National Republican Congressional Committee as “Young Guns” and“Contenders” — the top rungs of a program that highlights promising candidates who are challenging Democrats or running in open seats — at least a third have indicated they do not plan to sign the pledge authored by anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist.
Two of the seven candidates promoted by the NRCC as the “Young Gun Vanguard” —candidates competing in open seats that are considered Republican-leaning — also have declined to sign.
The pledge pushed by Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, compels candidates to “resist any effort” to raise tax rates for individuals and businesses. Signers also pledge to oppose the elimination of tax credits and deductions unless they are matched dollar-for-dollar with tax cuts.
The pledge is incompatible with good governance. A similar pledge against spending cuts would also be ridiculous but no such pledge exists making Norquist’s work a notably successful and all encompassing blight on our system. However, that’s old news, the big question is why is it happening. The candidates cited desires to close specific loopholes or make big debt deals. Helderman also cites the looming sequestration crisis and Democrats holding firm on the need for some tax hikes or defense cuts.My analysis would be that by actually forcing the issue they’ve caused Republicans to face a classical governing dilemma and makes their trade-offs real ugly. Finally, a demonstration effect matters: some Republican primary candidate non-signers were also able to beat those that signed the pledge and Sen. Coburn of Oklahoma has been a prominent defector from the pledge which offers breathing room to candidates.
I don’t know to what extent the candidates or campaign managers have seen the research, but political science gives a powerful motivation for not signing the pledge. Michal Tomz and Robert Van Houweling conducted a study on the impact of Norquist’s pledges. Ezra Klein admirably summarized it, the key point is that even voters that are willing to support taxes are likely to punish pledge breakers. This shows the sheer effectiveness of the pledge, but also makes clear that the benefits received from signing it may be overwhelmed by the costs of breaking it in environment where avoiding tax hikes is becoming increasingly difficult.