Grover Norquist

News flash: Grover Norquist still opposes tax hikes

The big story I’m supposed to chase today concerns Republican legislative figures distancing themselves from the Grover Norquist pledge, opening the door a crack to increases in tax revenue. This is really a Washington process story about lobbying power rather than a legitimate policy evolution, however.

Who are these rebels, anyway? Here’s a roster. You have Saxby Chambliss and Tom Coburn, members of the Gang of Eight, who have endorsed tax increases as part of a deficit deal for two years. There’s Lindsey Graham, who’s never met an initiative he won’t play footsie with, only to sell out in the end. John McCain, see Lindsey Graham. Peter King, whose historical profile is as a moderate Republican from a light-red Long Island district surrounded by an ocean of blue. Alan Simpson, who’s not in Congress and has also had his name on a plan with tax increases for two years. And Jeff Flake, who dismissed the pledge while saying “I don’t want higher taxes.”

There’s no news here at all, but instead a fake Washington drama based in personality. At the very least, there’s as much news in Gang of Eight member and close Obama confidante Dick Durbin putting Medicare and Medicaid on the table in the negotiation:

“From my side of the table, bring entitlement reform into the conversation,” Durbin said on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” “Social Security – set aside … doesn’t add to the deficit. But when it comes to Medicare and Medicaid, protect the integrity of the program, but give it solvency for more and more years.”

But Durbin ruled out raising the age of Medicare eligibility as a potential reform.

“We’ve got to make sure that there is seamless coverage of affordable health insurance for every American,” Durbin said. “My concern about raising that Medicare retirement age is there will be gaps in coverage or coverage that’s way too expensive for seniors to purchase.”

Considering where we were in summer 2011, this is actually a better starting point for the negotiation. And there are Medicare and Medicaid reforms, along the lines of payment reforms, that may even benefit the programs. But it’s only a starting point. And social insurance is, or ought to be, as inviolable on the left as tax increases are for the right, at least for the purposes of making an article about how both sides are ready to compromise.

I’m not certain that these wayward Republicans, not necessarily central ones to any deal in fact, are indicative of the entire caucus, moreover. Stan Collender is right that we’ve had basically no progress since the election. The 2011 grand bargain ran aground on taxes, and you can see the exact same thing happening this time around.

But Bob Corker, who is more critical to a deal, actually has a plan in his hands, touted by Greg Mankiw, which would cap deductions at $50,000 and raise only a slightly smaller amount, both overall and from the rich, than letting the Bush tax cuts expire. And if a critical mass on the right can see their way clear on taxes, the rest of the deal could come together, though probably many months down the road than in the lame duck session.

Meanwhile, it remains the case that 1) Democrats acquire much more leverage on the deal if they let everything expire, and 2) there’s no need for a “deal” per se as much as just a cancellation of a lot of these deficit reduction measures that will hurt the near-term economy. But that doesn’t make a sexy story.