Voinovich criticizes Norquist pledge

VOINOVICH CRITICIZES NORQUIST PLEDGE…. Now that Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) is retiring, he’s free to occasionally tell the truth about matters that might make his party uncomfortable.

For example, three out of four Senate Republicans have signed Grover Norquist’s pledge never to vote for any kind of tax increase, ever. Those who don’t sign it, struggle badly in GOP primaries. For Voinovich, the exercise is misguided.

Sen. George Voinovich (Ohio) said the anti-tax pledge signed by his fellow Republicans conflicts with their responsibility as lawmakers to deal with the country’s $13 trillion debt problem.

“I think that a lot of my colleagues have taken the pledge, and what they have to understand is that that pledge is inconsistent with the oath of office that they took when they became members of the United States Senate,” said Voinovich last week at an event on the deficit organized by the center-left think tank Third Way. […]

Voinovich, a long-time fiscal hawk who hasn’t signed the pledge, said the American people may soon demand that lawmakers “act responsibly” in dealing with red ink…. Voinovich, who is retiring at year’s end after two terms in the Senate, has said that higher taxes must be considered by the White House fiscal commission, which consists of congressional Democrats, Republicans and outside experts appointed by President Barack Obama who will try to produce a plan to deal with the red ink.

This is, of course, the kind of reasonable observation that will lead Voinovich to be labeled a freedom-hating communist by the Republican base, but I’m nevertheless pleased to see the senator make this concession publicly.

For about a year and a half now, Republican officials have made the budget mess one of their top issues, if not the most pressing matter in government. That these same Republican officials actually created the budget mess, and are complaining about a problem that didn’t exist until they screwed up so spectacularly, is an inconvenient detail that seems to have gone largely overlooked.

But now that the issue matters to them again, and leading GOP officials who ran up massive deficits no longer care for their own irresponsible conduct, they demand that the deficit be brought under control — just so long as taxes don’t go up a penny. That tax rates are currently at their lowest levels since Truman is yet another inconvenient detail that seems to have gone largely overlooked.

Voinovich wasn’t nearly this reasonable until he was on his way out the door, but he’s correct now: if closing the budget gap is a priority, spending cuts alone won’t get the job done.

This will, of course, be immediately ignored by Voinovich’s Republican colleagues, who fear Norquist and the base more than they worry about the budget.