The Norquist factor

As Ohio voters issued a powerful shellacking to Republicans who pursued policies they consider extreme, The Hill on Wednesday ran one of the most important stories of the year, titled "House Republican lawmakers want out of Norquist tax pledge."

A growing number of House Republicans, including a number of highly principled conservatives, want to set aside pledges against new revenues at a time of a national jobs emergency and a profound challenge of deficits and debt.

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Many of these "pledges" were made more than a decade ago. Virtually all of them were made before the current fiscal and jobs crises that require bipartisan solutions that voters want, the economy needs and the Norquist pledge will not allow.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), a legislator who believes in honorable and fair compromise to cure the nation's economy, has deplored the Norquist pledge as being destructive to any prospect of the effective bipartisanship that is urgently needed.

Similarly, conservative Republican statesmen such as former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson and former New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg have also counseled that a true bipartisan solution to the deficit danger requires new revenue as part of a broad bipartisan package.

My view is that pledges such as the Norquist pledge should be flat-out discarded, as a matter of policy and principle, by all legislators, to achieve a bipartisan agreement at a time of economic crisis.

Voters did not elect legislators to be human computers, rejecting broad bipartisanship by ruling out in lockstep the one essential component of bipartisanship: reasonable compromise that requires real concessions from both parties.

Nor did voters elect legislators to act like members of the Soviet Politburo during the days of Brezhnev, treating old pledges like party voting cards that destroy any hope of the very bipartisanship that voters demand and the economy requires.

It is fitting that the Norquist pledge flap occurs at the very moment that voters in Ohio said a resounding no to the politics of absolutism from a highly unpopular Republican governor, and highly unpopular Republican legislators, who tried to force-feed highly unpopular attacks on collective bargaining and other principles long supported by a majority of both parties.

In my last column, which discussed the huge majorities that would be won by Hillary Clinton against any Republican opponents in a hypothetical 2012 campaign, according to a recent poll by Time magazine, I proposed that the next realignment is far more likely to be Democratic than Republican.

That column received a very strong reaction, pro and con. I would note that the final numbers in the Ohio vote come close to the projected numbers predicting a dramatic Hillary Clinton victory in the hypothetical match-up.

The Ohio vote augurs very well for President Obama and other Democrats standing for a progressive populism, in 2012.

There is real danger for Republicans, especially House Republicans, of being trapped by the Norquist pledge into taking absolutist positions that voters view as an aggressive attack against the majority view of the nation.

The story in The Hill that I cited earlier is correct. There are many Republicans who are coming to agree that the Norquist pledge is bad economics for America, bad government in Washington, and bad politics for Republicans if they want to survive elections in which fanaticism could be the kiss of political death in a nation fed up with gridlock in Washington.

A majority of voters want a deficit deal. They want revenue included in the deal. They want a jobs program. They want gridlock to end. Do Republicans want to be hard-line on the wrong side of these great issues?

My advice to Republicans: Kill the pledge. Cast the bipartisan vote to save the economy. As Ohio goes, so goes the nation.


Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.