While noble in spirit, Grover Norquist’s tax pledge is inherently flawed, for it has provided an undeserved cloak of fiscal responsibility to its signatories, and so provided (primarily) Republican officeholders with an unwarranted pass.
The problem with the pledge is that it only proscribes voting for increases in tax rates, it does not proscribe voting for increases in taxes. For in the end, taxes are the reciprocal of expenditures – the higher the expenditures, the higher the taxes. Tax rates merely (help) determine what portion of (current) expenditures is paid for currently, and what portion of the payment of (current) expenditures is deferred via debt.
In turn, the more debt the higher the ultimate taxes, for now there will be interest on top of (current) expenditures. So ironically, as Republicans in past years and decades have advocated (and succeeded in enacting) lower tax rates, they’ve actually increased taxes more than would have been the case with higher tax rates.
Now the above IS NOT to be construed as advocating for raising tax rates to “help balance the budget.” Quite the contrary, the one and only problem is government spending – ideally we would lower tax rates while lowering government spending even more.
But for the past several decades, including during the Reagan years, the federal budget has inexorably grown – year in, year out. So we should not delude ourselves that Republicans favor “lower taxes” or that they have ever “lowered taxes,” at least not in recent history.
If it were to be truly meaningful, Mr. Norquist’s pledge would require voting against any increase in the overall federal budget (or at least not a budget that exceeded a certain percentage of GDP, or increase above CPI, or some similar formula). As it is, the pledge merely provides false-cover for those in office.