Monday December 17, 2012

The Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph, Dec. 13, 2012

How many defections does it take to render a no-tax-pledge meaningless?

We’re not sure, but count us among those who would love to find out.

Like the drip, drip, drip from a leaky faucet, congressional Republicans are coming forward to disavow the rigid "Taxpayer Protection Pledge" they signed with conservative lobbyist Grover Norquist and his Americans for Tax Reform to never raise taxes.

Sen. Lamar Alexander. Sen. Saxby Chambliss. Sen. Tom Coburn. Sen. Bob Corker. Sen. Lindsey Graham. Sen. John McCain. Rep. Peter King. Rep. Mary Bono Mack.

By some accounts, as many as 33 House Republicans and 12 senators had expressed a willingness to renounce their pledge as of last week, joining 16 incoming representatives and six senators who refused to sign it. Overall, 219 representatives and 39 senators of the incoming Congress took the pledge.

Even our own Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who took the pledge during her successful run in 2010, suggested last month that she might be open to breaking it.

"The only pledge that keeps me up at night is the pledge I owe to the people of New Hampshire and our country to work as hard as I can to make sure America doesn’t go bankrupt," she said in a statement.

What would have been heresy as recently as two months ago is now trending through the Republican rank-and-file in the wake of President Barack Obama’s re-election victory last month and the impending arrival of the "fiscal cliff" at the end of this one.

Here are just a few of the onerous measures set to take effect Jan. 1:

-- Today’s income tax rates of 10, 15, 28, 33 and 35 percent would return to the pre-George W. Bush levels of 15, 25, 28, 36 and 39.6, depending on one’s income.

-- The payroll tax that finances Social Security would return to 6.2 percent, ending the two-year "holiday" rate of 4.2 percent. That would mean a loss of $1,000 a year for someone making the 2011 median income of roughly $50,000.

-- Long-term jobless extensions would expire, which would mean an estimated 2 million Americans would no longer be eligible for unemployment checks.

And that’s just what would happen on New Year’s Day. Some $109 billion in spending cuts brought on by sequestration would go into effect Jan. 2, the nation’s debt ceiling is on track to be reached by mid-February, and the continuing resolution now funding the federal government expires March 27.

What should be obvious to everyone is that navigating through this fiscal minefield will require common-sense solutions. That can’t happen unless the president and all members of Congress -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- show an open mind and a willingness to work across the aisle for the good of the people who sent them there.

Unlike the past two years, this isn’t one of those times when being obstinate maintains the status quo; on the contrary, being obstinate this time obliterates it.

And if Republicans are looking for some political cover, consider this: A Quinnipiac University poll released last week found that, by an overwhelming majority of 85-10 percent, Americans thought it was a "bad idea" for a member of Congress to "sign a pledge to an anti-tax group to never increase taxes on corporations or the wealthy under any circumstance."

Oh, and the spread among Republicans: 77-15.