As Democrats and Republicans struggle over how to balance the federal budget, Republicans have drawn a line in the sand.
Nearly every republican in Congress, and each GOP member of the Arizona delegation, has signed a pledge to never raise taxes.
Critics vilify what’s called the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.
And they say its sponsor, Grover Norquist, now controls the Republican Party on tax policy.
Arizona Republicans reject that claim, yet they continue to cling to the Pledge.
Grover Norquist isn’t a household name.
He’s never been elected to public office.
But Norquist is a powerhouse in Washington.
He’s gotten two hundred and thirty eight House members and forty one senators to sign his pledge to never raise taxes.
Only thirteen Republicans in Congress have refused to sign it.
In a speech to conservative activists this year, Norquist called liberals “parasites” and he reaffirmed his vision for the U-S tax code.
“Our job is to say ‘no’ to tax increases, stop throwing money in the center of the table, put our foot on the air hose, and watch that pile of money begin to decline," Norquist told the crowd.
That’s the vision embodied in the Pledge.
If a republican deviates from it, conservative activists will pounce, opening up a primary challenge.
Thomas Mann is a senior fellow with the think tank the Brookings Institution.
He says in many ways Norquist’s Pledge has become the ticket for admission to today’s Republican tent.
“He’s not personally powerful but his tax pledge has become the signature feature, I call it the Holy Grail of the contemporary Republican Party and keeps it from playing any constructive role in putting the country’s finances in order," Mann said.
Will the G-O-P be willing to budge on taxes in the next round of the debt debate?
If it’s up to Arizona Republicans, the answer is no.
And first term Flagstaff Congressman Paul Gosar says his opposition to taxes isn’t because of Norquist.
“I think it’s common sense," Gosar said. "You can’t raise taxes cause that’s what’s killing – the uncertainty of taxes, the uncertainty of rules and regulations – are just killing people.”
Arizona Republican Senator John McCain also quickly brushes aside the criticism that Norquist controls the GOP on taxes.
McCain says he’s hoping Congress can overhaul the tax code without raising rates on anyone’s personal income.
“Well, we have pledged to close loopholes and to make the tax code simpler," McCain said.
But Arizona Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva says just closing loopholes won’t get the nation’s fiscal house in order.
He says Norquist and his Pledge have too big of a hold on the G-O-P.
“Norquist can take pride in the fact that he held all these Republicans through this whole session. And in the process of doing that actually he prevented any real compromise, prevented any meeting in the middle," Grijalva said.
Grijalva says he’s never witnessed such a unified Republican Party.
“Prior to that Pledge, and I’ve been here almost 10 years, there was some room in the middle," Grijalva said. "Now it seems to be that if members move towards that middle, the threat comes on them and then the retribution at election time comes. And thus far it’s been affective because he’s able to control the herd.”
But some Republicans, like Arizona’s Trent Franks, say it’s not that they don’t want revenue flowing into Washington.
“I’m all for increasing revenues, but I want to increase it by growing the economy, not by putting more burden on it in the form of increased tax rates," Frank said.
And just as they disagree on the role of taxes, the two parties also clash on just how to grow the economy.
At the start of the next Congress economists are hoping the two parties can forge a broad compromise to cut the nation’s debt.
All eyes will be on Republicans, especially the eyes of Grover Norquist.
For Arizona Public Radio, I’m Matt Laslo in Washington.