Anyone interested in avoiding a tumble over the fiscal cliff at the end of the year—and that includes everyone from Wall Street stock traders to Main Street businessmen concerned about a double-dip recession—may want to take note of the news out of Washington the past few days.
It didn’t come from negotiation principals like President Obama or House Speaker John Boehner, but rather rank-and-file members of Congress.
Members of both the House and Senate said simply that the Emperor has no clothes on.
And that emperor is Grover Norquist, a Weston native and Harvard University graduate who is the founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform.
Democrats including Governor Deval Patrick, a Norquist college classmate, have long excoriated the conservative for pushing an ironclad no-new-taxes pledge on Republicans that they argue has prevented any of the revenue increases that liberals say must accompany any program cuts in a budgetary “grand bargain.”
Norquist has promised to campaign against or support primary challengers to anyone breaking the pledge, but that individual threat has been diminished after Republicans lost both the presidency and seats in Congress during this month’s general election.
That has prompted partisan soul-searching about how to best stave off future election losses. And now, as the lame-duck Congress resumes work today on a possible deal to avoid the program cuts and tax increases otherwise set to take effect Jan. 1, a number of Republicans—and past pledge signatories—are saying they won’t be beholden to Norquist.
“If I were in Congress in 1941, I would have signed a declaration of war against Japan,” Representative Peter King said Sunday during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I’m not going to attack Japan today.”
The New York congressman, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, explained that “the world has changed and the economic situation is different.”
Senator Lindsey Graham, appearing on the ABC News program, “This Week,” said he would violate the pledge “for the good of the country—only if Democrats will do entitlement reform.”
Asked how he would explain the change to Norquist, the South Carolina Republican pointed to the impending automatic military spending cuts and said, “What I would say to Grover Norquist is that the sequester would destroy the United States military.”
Senator Saxby Chambliss, another Republican from Georgia, told WMAZ-TV last week that: “I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge.”
He added: “If we do it his way, then we’ll continue in debt, and I just have a disagreement with him about that. But I don’t worry about that, because I care too much about my country. I care a lot more about it than I do Grover Norquist.”
Norquist responded on CNN that he found Chambliss’s comments “confusing” because the pledge was not to him, but the Georgian’s constituents.
Today, he added during another appearance on the cable network that his group would target members who break the pledge when they seek reelection, although voters tend to issue any punishment without prodding.
King, as a member of the House, runs every two years, while both Graham and Chambliss are expected to run for new six-year Senate terms in 2014.
“Historically, the people who lose do so because the people in their state have figured that out,” Norquist said on CNN’s “Starting Point with Soledad O’Brien.”Glen Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.