Top conservative says read my lips: Don’t sign ‘no new tax’ pledge

Jonathan Karl, Richard Coolidge, Gregory Lemos & Sherisse Pham
Power Players
Top conservative says read my lips: Don’t sign ‘no new tax’ pledge

Spinners and Winners

As a conservative Republican, Lindsey Graham has never had a problem promising not to raise taxes. Like almost every other Republican member of Congress, he has signed the anti-tax pledge put forth by Grover Norquist's group Americans for Tax Reform.

But now Graham says the debt crisis is so severe that the tax pledge — which says no tax loopholes can be eliminated unless every dollar raised by closing loopholes goes to tax cuts -- has got to go.

"When you eliminate a deduction, it's okay with me to use some of that money to get us out of debt. That's where I disagree with the pledge," said Graham.

The Americans for Tax Reform pledge commits signers to "oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses … and oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates."

Graham said eliminating some deductions should free up money to lower tax rates — but also to pay down U.S. debt.

"I just think that makes a lot of sense. And if I'm willing to do that as a Republican, I've crossed a rubicon," said Graham.

This puts Graham at odds with his party's leadership. Just last August, when the eight Republican presidential candidates were asked if they would reject a deal with $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in revenue, all eight said they would walk away. But Graham is now raising his hand for increased revenues — he says he could support a plan that included $4 in spending cuts for every $1 in increased tax revenue.

"We're so far in debt, that if you don't give up some ideological ground, the country sinks," said Graham.