White House officials spent the witching hour on New Year’s morning insisting to reporters that Democrats had broken the backs of Republicans by forcing them to violate their tax pledge and support a deal to resolve the “fiscal cliff.”
That deal — which cleared the Senate early Tuesday and awaits possible passage today in the House — would result in a permanent extension of the Bush-era income tax rates for those making under $400,000 individually, or $450,000 jointly.
Before the deal was even struck, President Obama used a Monday afternoon campaign-style event to frame Republicans as vulnerable in their dedication to lower taxes. “Keep in mind that just last month Republicans in Congress said they would never agree to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans,” Obama said. “Obviously the agreement that’s currently being discussed would raise those rates and raise them permanently.”
That statement was only the first in a series of White House dispatches claiming that Republicans had given up on their longtime allegiance to a Grover Norquist-managed pledge not to raise taxes.
A White House source told Fox News’s Ed Henry overnight that “Obama broke [the Republicans'] tax pledge,” making the Joe Biden-negotiated deal “[one] of the most consequential policy achievements of the last couple decades.”
A “senior official” told BuzzFeed Monday that the deal was “a sea change,” which shows that Republicans will bend to demands for higher taxes in the future.
“It will inevitably make it easier to get [Republicans] on board whenever we ask for new revenues,” the official told BuzzFeed, “because they’ve already crossed that threshold.”
Similarly, a “West Wing advisor” told Politico that getting Republicans to walkaway from their tax commitment was a “big win.”
By making such statements, the White House — which at one time would not dare refer to the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts as “raising taxes” — is clearly attempting to declare unilateral victory for delaying the fiscal cliff.
And there is definitely a contingent of Republicans, particularly in the House, who see these particular tax hikes as a compromise of conservative principles.
But ask Norquist whether the expiration of any level of the Bush-era tax cuts actually violates his tax pledge and he’ll say no. He’s been saying it for years.
In 2010, Norquist famously told The Washington Post that “[n]ot continuing a tax cut is not technically a tax increase,” and explained that allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire would not violate his pledge, signed by almost every Republican lawmaker.
He later qualified his remarks, insisting that he was opposed to the expiration of the tax cuts, but maintained that the pledge would not be violated by their expiration.
And Norquist re-iterated the point when asked Monday by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer whether the fiscal cliff deal is a violation of the tax pledge. “No, it is not,” Norquist said, “This is progress, making 84 percent of the Bush tax cuts permanent.”
But that permanence takes away the last bit of nuance associated with the pledge. Now if Republicans support an increase in marginal rates, Norquist is likely to call foul.