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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?

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Within hours, the three lawmakers responded with a very carefully written letter of their own. “Our pledge,” they wrote, “is to protect taxpayers, not special interests. To do so we must analyze every aspect of the federal budget, including the tax code.” On the other hand, they asserted their belief that “tax hikes will hinder, not promote, economic growth.” Finally, they included the usual disclaimer: The news story that reported their participation in budget talks provided only “rumored details.”

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Before the day was out, Norquist gave the three his blessing. Their letter, he said, was “very encouraging.”

Yet, Chambliss, Crapo, and Coburn (who is said to have a good working relationship with Obama) never did rule out new revenues in a consensus budget deal. And Norquist seemed uncharacteristically conciliatory. Maybe it is the near-arrival of spring, but I find this encouraging.

Of course, no bipartisan agreement will be reached with GOP heterodoxy alone. The three Democrats in the Senate’s gang of six—Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND), Virginia’s Mark Warner and, most importantly, #2 Senate Democrat Dick Durbin (D-IL) have gone out on their own limb by expressing a willingness to tackle Social Security. This issue generates as much heat on the left as tax hikes do on the right. Liberal bloggers have already dubbed them the “cat food caucus” for their trouble.

These six pols– who have yet to reach consensus even among themselves—have a long way to go before they can round up the 50 or 60 votes necessary to pass a serious budget in the Senate, to say nothing of getting it out of the House. And, as regular readers of TaxVox know, I have been extremely skeptical of a big budget deal before the next presidential election. Still, these bits of rebellion against party orthodoxy matter. They are small first steps. But they are steps.

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