When members of Congress are sworn into office, they do so by promising to support the Constitution and faithfully discharging the duties of the office.
Nowhere in the 81-word pledge is anything about carrying the torch for special interest groups -- or blind adherence to a particular lobbyist. Yet somehow the head of Americans for Tax Reform has been able to twist the arms of hundreds of elected officials to sign his own pledge never to raise taxes. Since President Ronald Reagan's time, lobbyist and conservative Grover Norquist has pressured politicians to sign what is known in the nation's capital as "The Pledge."
Formally called the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, Norquist demands that all candidates and incumbents "solemnly bind themselves to oppose any and all tax increases."
He's gotten a lot of takers. Almost 300 federal lawmakers have signed it as have more than 1,100 state-level officials. In Kansas, Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran are on board. So are Reps. Tim Huelskamp, Lynn Jenkins and Michael Pompeo. The only congressman not to place his signature on the document has been Rep. Kevin Yoder.
Which would make Yoder the only Kansas leader with the flexibility to represent the citizens of this great state -- and not be beholden to a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. Such a stance also could make Yoder vulnerable in future elections, as Norquist has the financial clout to make political futures difficult for those who won't sign the pledge -- and those who break their vow.
There are encouraging signs just this week, however, that after almost 30 years Norquist's influence is weakening. Breaking ranks and declaring they only should abide by their oath of office have been House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. Even Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., are signalling that solving the nation's debt and deficit problems are more important than "The Pledge." Even House Speaker John Boehner recently called Norquist "some random person."
Whether any of our own leaders will abandon Norquist in favor of serving Kansans remains to be seen. Having any Republican dare speak out against Americans for Tax Reform is welcome and overdue. Perhaps it's driven by the self-inflicted threat of the fiscal cliff, but that's fine. If enough Republicans decide to work for the American people, we can avoid another recession and actually start working on the nation's financial mess.
Bipartisan compromise will be needed.
Which is precisely why those on the other side of the aisle should be ashamed of themselves for attempting to pull Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid off the negotiating table.
Liberal Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi are insisting they won't support cuts to any of these entitlement programs. Such an extreme position is as ridiculous and nonproductive as signing the no-tax pledge.
Just as President Barack Obama has indicated, it will take a balance of spending cuts and revenue enhancements to get the country back on track. Centrists from both parties realize this; the far left and far right apparently do not.
Extremist factions are good for debates, but not for compromises. Congress needs to fashion an agreement within the next two to three weeks or the American people are going to suffer once again by its inaction. If there is any lingering doubts about what to do, refer to the oath of office most of you have uttered more than once.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry