That's why it was so disheartening to read that Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), is on Capitol Hill this week having closed-door meetings with lawmakers to discuss ATR’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” -- which is intended to prevent lawmakers from ever "raising" any taxes on anybody for any reason.
Just months before Congress has to embark on serious bipartisan negotiations to shore up America’s fiscal future, ATR and other special interest groups are doing their best to kill those negotiations before they even start. Because if Republicans refuse to put new revenues on the table during negotiations, you can count on Democrats not putting social insurance reforms on the table either.
Of course, the ATR pledge is only a symptom of a much bigger problem:
Increasingly, Congress is effectively outsourcing its legislative responsibilities to various ideologically-based and single interest groups. Members of
Congress might not see it that way, but that is the cumulative effect of dozens of different interest group pledges that members have signed promising that they will vote a certain way on issues ranging from taxes and social insurance programs, to defense, foreign-policy, energy and immigration.
Consider for example the fact that 238 House members have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. Another 112 members have signed the Progressive
Change Coalition’s pledge to never cut Social Security benefits. The upshot is that over 80% of House members are basically refusing to negotiate on two of the biggest drivers of America's structural deficits.
As the former Comptroller General of the United States, I have spent years analyzing America’s finances – and I can tell you that our federal fiscal sanity cannot be restored without social insurance program reforms, defense and other spending reductions, AND tax reform that generates revenues above the historical average. The numbers just don’t add up – at least not in a way that would be acceptable to a significant majority of the American public.
Democrats and Republicans will both have to give a little, but the more pledges they sign, the less likely they are to tackle our fiscal challenges or any of the other major challenges facing America. That’s why I believe that we need more members of Congress and more candidates to say that the only pledge they will take is their formal oath of office, where they solemnly swear to “defend the Constitution of the United States.” This proposal was initially made by No Labels – a group I co-founded – in our "Make Congress Work!" action plan.
There is also a growing movement among America's political leaders to reduce the influence of these interest group pledges. Last week, two influential GOP figures, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, called for their elimination. If more leaders were willing to join them, they might be surprised by the high level of support from the American public. A recent independent poll conducted by No Labels, found that 82% of Americans from across the political spectrum supported this idea.
Democrats and Republicans in Congress are already divided enough as it is without having these pledges limiting their ability to maneuver and work across the political aisle to solve problems and make progress. "No Pledge But the Oath of Office" is an idea whose time has come and it's time for all candidates for federal office to climb aboard.
Walker is a co-founder of No Labels, a group of Democrats, Republicans and independents dedicated to moving America towards problem-solving rather than partisan stalemate.