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Tax VOX

Little rebellions against party orthodoxy

A few Republicans and Democrats are turning away from their party's ideology. Can this lead to a bipartisan budget deal?

By Guest blogger / February 25, 2011

U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga, right, speaks to supporters during a Fair Tax rally in November 2008, in Duluth, Ga. Chambliss is one of the Republicans in a bipartisan group that is trying to develop a plan to reduce the deficit.

Gregory Smith / AP / File

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Ideological heresy may not quite be breaking out all over Washington, but in the growing debate over the burgeoning debt, there are helpful hints of apostasy. And hope of a bipartisan consensus for responsible deficit reduction may lie atop those tiny waves of dissent.

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The latest whiff of hopeful heterodoxy comes from three Republican senators– Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Mike Crapo of Idaho, and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. In quiet backroom negotiations and in a remarkable public exchange of letters with Grover Norquist of American for Tax Reform, the three lawmakers suggest that they might—might—support revenue-raising tax reform as part of a broader deficit reduction deal.

All of this is happening in code, and with classic Washington indirection. The three lawmakers—none of whom would ever be confused with a Rockefeller Republican—are the GOP half of a small bipartisan group of senators that is trying to develop a compromise deficit reduction plan. As members of President Obama’s deficit commission, Crapo and Coburn endorsed the proposal offered late last year by panel chairs Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson. That plan included a call for a broad-based tax reform that would lower rates, eliminate most tax preferences, and raise about $800 billion in revenues from 2015 thr0ugh 2020.

When word spread that the three were working with Senate Democrats to design a bipartisan budget that would reduce spending, restructure Social Security, and reform and raise taxes, Norquist pounced. The three senators, he wrote, “were implicated as parties to a bipartisan budget deal containing a net tax increase.”

Norquist, the Tomás de Torquemada of tax policy, accepts no breach of his “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” a vow to never raise taxes under any circumstances. According to the ATR website, the pledge has been signed by 237 House members and 41 senators, including Chambliss, Crapo and Coburn. Torquemada, you may recall, burned thousands of non-believers at the stake in the 15th century and was fondly known as “the hammer of heretics.”