Sen. Graham: GOP should break with Norquist tax pledge for grand bargain

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Tuesday he believed Republicans should consider eliminating loopholes in the tax code even if they aren't replaced by additional tax cuts, a move that would break with an anti-tax pledge many GOP lawmakers have signed with activist Grover Norquist.

"When you eliminate a deduction, it's OK with me to use some of that money to get us out of debt. That's where I disagree with the pledge," Graham told ABC News.


The South Carolina senator said while he believed some of the money from closing deductions should go to lowering tax rates, he also believed the increased revenues could be used to help pay down the federal debt.

"I just think that makes a lot of sense. And if I'm willing to do that as a Republican, I've crossed a rubicon," said Graham.

Thousands of Republican candidates — including Graham and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney — have signed a pledge with Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform that commits them to oppose any tax increases that would not be met "dollar for dollar" with another tax cut. But while Graham applauded the pledge for "doing a great service," he also said Republicans would need to be flexible.

"When you talk about eliminating deductions and tax credits for the few, at the expense of the many, I think over time the Republican Party's position is going to shift. It needs to, quite frankly, because we are $16 trillion in debt," he said.

"I'm willing to move my party, or try to, on the tax issue. I need someone on the Democratic side being willing to move their party on structural changes to entitlements."

Graham said, for instance, he would support a plan that included $4 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases. During a Republican debate last August, all eight Republican candidates in attendance said they would reject a proposal to trade $10 in spending cuts for even $1 in tax increases.

"We're so far in debt, that if you don't give up some ideological ground, the country sinks," said Graham.

Graham is the second prominent Republican to come out against rigid adherence to Norquist's pledge this month. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) told the House Budget Committee he would accept the plan rejected by the Republican candidates.

“If you could bring to me a majority of people to say that we’re going to have $10 in spending cuts for $1 of revenue enhancement — put me in, coach,” Bush said. “This will prove I’m not running for anything."