I have known Congressman Frank Wolf for a long time. His commitment to principle, dedication to the public good, and his courage are beyond question.
This is, after all, a man who, rather than take Beijing’s word on the matter, snuck into Tibet posing as a tourist to learn first-hand about China’s human rights record. Well, today my friend adds to this legacy, only this time, his display of courage is at lot closer to home.
Speaking before Congress on Tuesday, Wolf addressed the “dire economic situation facing our country,” and why our leaders aren’t addressing the situation.
The answer, in large part, lies in taking tax increases off the table. By “tax increases,” Frank doesn’t mean raising the tax burden on the average American. What he’s talking about is eliminating “earmarks and loopholes that benefit special interests and let Washington pick winners and losers.”
Serious tax reform would create a fairer, more rational tax system that would increase revenues while allowing tax rates for ordinary people to drop.
So, why aren’t we embracing this win-win-win approach? Because of a no-tax “pledge,” closely associated with lobbyist Grover Norquist. Signers who vote to raise taxes face bare-knuckled political retaliation.
The problem, as Wolf said, isn’t so much the pledge, but rather the interpretation of that pledge. Norquist and his supporters claim, for instance, that voting to end ethanol subsidies violates the pledge. By this standard, closing any loophole constitutes a “tax increase” and is, thus, out of the question. But without closing loopholes, you can’t reform the tax code; and without reforming the tax code you can’t raise revenues or reduce deficits in a politically feasible manner. In other words, we will continue to drive off the cliff.
Wolf is right when he says that such pledges are not only bad policy but also unconservative. He cites British parliamentarian Edmund Burke, whom true conservatives hold as their model. Burke was asked to take a pledge when he was first elected to Parliament in England. He refused, telling the electors, "Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”
The kind of pledge that is keeping Congress from addressing our dire economic situation is the antithesis of what Burke described – it’s an abdication of responsibility and a betrayal of trust. Especially when in this case the pledge is reportedly kept in a safe in the lobbyist’s office.
If saying this is enough to get my friend in political hot water, and it is, the rest of what he said will only add fuel to the fire. Frank Wolf had the courage to say what everyone in Washington knows but it is afraid to say out loud: Much of the anti-tax agitation in Washington is special-interest politics masquerading as principle. The kind of comprehensive tax reform Wolf and others like Senator Tom Coburn advocate would hurt the clients and backers of those invoking the pledge.
And taking on the special interests is what’s really off the table in Washington.
Look, it takes courage to do what Frank Wolf has done. I think we should let him know that ordinary people like you and I aren’t going to be held hostage by special pleaders. Come to our website and email him and tell him you agree and you applaud his courage.
Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media and print.
Publication date: October 7, 2011