Tom Coburn, a member of the Senate's Gang of Six, yesterday
on Meet the Press:
MR. GREGORY: Could you support a deal here, out of this Gang of Six, on the budget that includes tax increases?
SEN. COBURN: Well, we're not talking about it. I think if you go back and look at the commission's report, what we were talking about is getting significant dynamic effects by taking away tax credits, lowering the tax rate and having an economic increase that will actually increase the revenues to the federal government. We're not talking about raising tax rates at all. So if, if there's a net effect of tax revenue that would be fine with me. I experienced that during Reagan's period in 1986.
Note that in this exchange, Coburn does not endorse an effective increase in tax rates—he says they aren't even on the table. His argument is that tax reform would generate more revenue because it would increase economic growth, not because it would eliminate special interest tax breaks.
Now that seems like the sort of magical thinking that conservatives should love, but Coburn is actually getting heat from the right because in the same interview he also said this about the Americans for Tax Reform pledge against raising taxes:
MR. GREGORY: If taxes end up going up in some capacity, would you not be in violation of that pledge?
SEN. COBURN: Well, I think which pledge is most important, David, is the pledge to, to uphold your oath to the Constitution of the United States or a pledge from a special interest group who, who claims to speak for all of American conservatives when, when in fact they really don't.
That's a heck of a line, but keep in mind that the guy delivering it just said tax increases aren't on the table. Nonetheless, here's how Grover Norquist, head of the group that wrote the pledge Coburn was talking about, responded:
Coburn said on national TV today that he lied his way into office and will vote to raise taxes if he damn well feels like it, never mind what he promised the citizens of Oklahoma. Sen. Coburn knows perfectly well that the pledge is not to any organization but to the citizens of his state. He lied to them, not to Americans for Tax Reform.
Before this recent television comment, Coburn told me personally in a phone call that he would not vote for a tax increase and repeated his commitment in writing in a public letter to me.
I can see why Norquist would want people to think Coburn was more moderate than him on taxes, but the fact is that Norquist was blasting Coburn for an appearance in which Coburn had just said the Gang of Six wasn't even taling about raising taxes.
Maybe Coburn was lying and plans to support tax increases—he's going to have to if he wants to produce a credible plan—but unless he was, Coburn and Norquist are on the same page. They might have their differences about special interest tax breaks, but on the big question of whether net effective tax increases should be on the table, there is no daylight between them, at least for now. And that's a bad sign if you want to see a long-term fiscal plan anytime soon.