By Rep. Karen Bass
If the fiscal cliff debate told us anything it should be that Grover Norquist's tax pledge is dead -- now and forever more.
After having far too long a life, Norquist's pledge died a slow death on January 1st, 2013 when 89 House Republicans joined a majority of GOP Senators to help pass the first major tax increases on the wealthiest Americans in two decades -- effectively rendering the pledge irrelevant.
As new and returning members take their oaths of office this week, now seems like a good time to take stock of the fact that Congress members are elected to honor their oaths to the constitution and constituents, not pledges pushed by outside interest groups like Norquist's Americans For Tax Reform.
There is a reason Congress is held in its lowest esteem in a generation and it has a lot to do with the willingness of elected officials to let outside forces like Norquist dictate too much about what goes on in Washington. As I've said before, if Norquist wants to run government then he should run for office.
Norquist has been making a valiant effort to raise his pledge from the dead since Congress passed the fiscal cliff deal. The day after the vote, he tweeted that every Republican voting for the Senate bill was cutting taxes so therefore they were keeping their pledge.
His rationale? Since the country had already gone over the fiscal cliff and therefore taxes were going to increase anyway, voting for the compromise legislation which raised tax rates on incomes above $400,000 per year wasn't really a tax increase because tax cuts for 97% of Americans making under that amount were also a part of the deal.
Make no mistake - everyone who voted for the agreement understood that it was a vote for tax increases on the wealthiest Americans. Well not according to Norquist, who insisted on making the rounds wherever he could find a willing ear to try and explain away why Republicans hadn't voted to increase taxes when everyone knows that's exactly what happened.
If that makes your head spin it's because Norquist is making absolutely no sense. His contortions are nothing more than the whimpers of a desperate man fighting to remain relevant when the voices of a majority of the American people are against the outdated notion that the wealthiest Americans should continue getting a free pass while the middleclass, seniors and college students foot the bill to cover the nation's deficits.
Those who follow Norquist closely realize this wasn't the pledge's first brush with death. Norquist twisted the rules again by acting as some sort of higher power and blessing Speaker Boehner's "Plan B" proposal, which called for tax increases on Americans earning more than $1 million per year.
So this week's actions from Norquist are basically becoming a pattern. He changes the meanings of his own pledge to remain relevant during the partisan fights that oftentimes he has helped to create.
But Norquist shouldn't get off that easy. Democrats and frankly, Republicans should now see Norquist's pledge clearly for what it is -- an irrelevant oath of which the author is willing to change the rules of the game so that he can keep on playing while the American people suffer under the partisan gridlock he encourages.
Anyone still confused about whether Norquist is playing this game based on principle or to remain relevant should look no further than the language of the very pledge he so doggedly has used to highjack the Republican Party.
The pledge reads: "I _________ pledge to the taxpayers of the state of ________, and to the American people that I will: ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses.
Most Americans would say that not only seems pretty straightforward -- but also that the previous deals in which Norquist have changed the rules of the game stand in clear violation of this pledge.
As budget battles continue in Washington I'll be watching to see if Norquist makes yet another attempt to raise his pledge from the dead. If he is successful -- then shame on all of us for not calling him out on his contortions. It's what the American people deserve and it's up to all of us in Washington to remember that they are who we must maintain our oaths too -- not irrelevant tax pledges pushed down the throats of the American people from the likes of Norquist, who no one elected to anything.
Bass, a Democrat, is a member of the House Budget Committee.