Politics

Left-wing Democrats push Norquist-style no-cuts budget pledge

Bill Clark, Getty Images

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer

Americans for Tax Reform founder Grover Norquist has been skewered by the media and the left for his Taxpayer Protection Pledge, but now some Democrats seem to be imitating him with a budget pledge of their own.

Left-wing Democratic Reps. Alan Grayson of Florida and Mark Takano of California are circulating a letter addressed to President Obama for members of Congress to sign. Signers of the letter pledge to vote against any substantive changes to America’s entitlement programs, including President Barack Obama’s proposal to use a different formula for Social Security cost of living increases.

“We will vote against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits — including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost of living adjustments that our constituents earned and need,” the letter reads, in part.

The letter, which was drafted in February, is backed by liberal groups such as the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy for America and MoveOn, among others. Thirty Members of Congress have signed onto it as of April 9, according to the latest update on Grayson’s website.

“This is a left-wing pledge just like ATR is a right-wing pledge,” David Walker, U.S. Comptroller General under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, told The Daily Caller. “They should be rejected.”

Even Norquist sees the pledge as similar in concept to ATR’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, though he points out there are differences that go beyond substance.

Norquist says ATR’s pledge is unique because it asks members of Congress to sign their name to a document which promises their constituents — not Norquist or his organization — that they will not vote for any tax increase.

“This could be like the Taxpayer Protection Pledge if it’s not to other members, but to the people of their district, and if they run on it,” Norquist told TheDC.

In contrast to the two and half dozen signatures the Grayson-Takano letter has garnered, some 218 House Republicans and 39 Senate Republicans have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. They were joined by New Jersey Rep. Rob Andrews, the only current Democrat in the House or Senate to have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, though he signed it in 1992 and says he was only bound by the terms of the pledge for the 1993 to 1995 congressional term.

Norquist says he believes the Grayson-Takano letter is a good step in the direction of transparency.

“If these guys want to stand up and say  ‘I tell the voters of my state I’m not going to reform entitlements in any way that saves taxpayers money,’ I think that would be useful to have because I do believe many of those people have made that promise privately to the labor unions and to the hard left,” he said.

“If they get copies to everybody and put it online like we do with ATR, then it’s beginning to move in that direction. And I think it’s good because it’s transparency.”

That’s not to say Norquist agrees with the substance of the pledge.

“Given that the present structure of entitlements leads to the collapse of those entitlements and to unsustainable levels of debt, these people are promising not to avoid national bankruptcy and not to destroy, or allow to self-destruct, Social Security and Medicare,” he said. “They are saying to younger people Social Security and Medicare will not be there for you — if I have my way — because I will vote not to reform it.”

Matt Wall, a spokesman for Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which has endorsed and promoted the letter, suggests that the Grayson-Takano letter is different than the Taxpayer Protection Pledge because of the popularity of the programs the letter is asking members of Congress to pledge themselves to fight for.

“I would say it’s different in that protecting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits is something that is wildly popular, whereas refusing to raise any taxes is something that is usually not as popular,” he told TheDC.

“We want to make sure that the benefits that people receive are protected, but reforms such as making it so Medicare and Medicaid can negotiate drug prices and save the taxpayers — I think it is something like $160 billion — those are things that we are open to. So we are not against all reforms and making the programs more efficient. But we want to make sure that benefits are protected.”

Asked to respond to the bipartisan array of budget experts who say that more significant reform of entitlement programs is necessary in order to get our long-term budget problems under control, Wall said, “That’s a good question,” after pausing for over three seconds.

“Can I get back to you on that?” he asked, after another eight seconds of phone silence.

An hour and a half later, Wall responded in an email.

“Social Security has a $2.5 trillion surplus, is solvent for decades, and doesn’t add to the deficit,” he said.

“Lifting the payroll tax cap so that billionaires like Warren Buffet pay Social Security taxes on more than just their first $113,000 of income would extend the program for decades more, and that’s all that would be necessary to do so. On Medicare, economists agree that the goal needs to be bringing down the actual cost of health care. Allowing Medicare and Medicaid to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies would save taxpayers $130 billion — and it would not cut a dime of benefits from grandparents, widows, and veterans. At the end of the day, the right way to reform Medicare is to stop corporations like drug companies from ripping off taxpayers, not stealing benefits from our grandparents.”

Former comptroller Walker, who has devoted his energies to informing the public about the danger of America’s long-term budget problems since leaving government, disagrees.

“Anybody who signs that pledge is ignorant of the financial challenges facing this country,” he said. “These type of pledges should be avoided because they serve to ignore reality and further polarize the country.”

“Medicare is a much bigger problem than Social Security,” he elaborated. “But you cannot restore fiscal sanity in this country without reforming social insurance programs.”

Neither Grayson nor Takano’s office returned TheDC’s request for comment.

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