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John Romano: Why the stammering over Norquist's pledge?

They dodge. They feint. They parry. They limbo, lambada and merengue.

It seems a growing number of lawmakers will do whatever contortions are necessary to avoid answering questions about their devotion to conservative activist Grover Norquist's tax pledge.

Seriously, is the question really that hard?

Either you believe taxes should not be raised under any circumstance as the pledge indicated when you signed it, or you no longer subscribe to this ridiculously intractable position. It should be a simple yes or no.

Now I will grant you that a handful of senators have publicly blown off Norquist and his whiny attempts at intimidation. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is one. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia is another. Every few days, someone new seems willing to step out of the dance line.

But as the fiscal cliff rapidly approaches, too many legislators want to pretend the pledge was just some postcard they signed when the economy was looking flush.

A House member from Georgia now says he viewed the pledge as more of a statement of philosophy than a promise. Several have said they thought the pledge had an expiration date, as if it were Twinkies. Marco Rubio swears his views have nothing to do with the pledge, which raises the question of why he ever signed it.

At this point, I'm not sure which is worse: swearing fealty to a lobbyist in the first place, or not having the courage to either embrace or disavow him now that it has become inconvenient.

Around here, both U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, and U.S. Rep Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, have signed the Norquist pledge.

I called both of their offices Friday morning to ask about their views on the budget and the president's insistence on a tax increase for those making more than $250,000.

I'm sure my phone will ring any minute now.

Young, to his credit, did appear as scheduled at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club luncheon Friday afternoon. Not surprisingly, the Norquist pledge was the first question he heard. He did such a fine job of avoiding the topic, it was also the second question he heard.

Young eventually seemed to say he might support a tax increase as long as spending cuts were part of the deal, an entirely defensible position.

But along the way he hemmed and hawed, and made it sound as if he had barely paid attention to a pledge that conservatives have praised for 20 years.

What is disappointing is Young never needed Norquist's blessing. And he's been around long enough to know that blind devotion to any policy is simply foolish.

The last time tax increases were on the table was during Bill Clinton's first term in 1993 when Young was one of 175 Republicans in the House. They voted 175-0 against it.

Yet, a decade earlier, Young did vote for tax increases that Ronald Reagan introduced during his first term. Nearly 54 percent of the Republicans in the House voted for that 1982 budget, along with 51 percent of the Democrats.

Back then, lawmakers seemed to understand nuance and compromise. They seemed more willing to vote their conscience instead of what lobbyists and donors were demanding. They seemed to care more about the country than their parties.

Here's an idea:

Why not sign a pledge to that effect?

John Romano: Why the stammering over Norquist's pledge? 12/08/12 [Last modified: Saturday, December 8, 2012 8:17pm]
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