As the work of the debt-reduction Super-Committee approaches its climax (or anti-climax) next week, the oversized role of tax lobbyist Grover Norquist has dominated the conversation, including this page one story in today's Washington Post, which confirms that a growing, bipartisan collection of Members of Congress is backing away from the Norquist "no-tax" pledge.
There are two themes among the statements by Senators and Representatives who are running from Grover. The first is that the Norquist pledge -- often signed by candidates, now Members, many years ago in the course of a heated political campaign -- is not currently binding. As Representative Rob Andrews (D-NJ) colorfully put it, "I never considered it to be like my marriage vows. I'm married to Camille Andrews, not Grover Norquist." Smart decision.
The second, even more powerful, refrain, is that the oath to the Constitution required of every public official trumps any special interest pledge. Representative Mike Simpson (R-ID) led an effort a couple of weeks back that produced this remarkable letter signed by 100 Members of Congress, including 37 Republicans who had previously signed the Norquist pledge, calling for all options, including increased revenue, to be on the table in the Super-Committee negotiations. In explaining his rejection of the Norquist pledge, Simpson said it plainly: "The only pledge I take anymore is to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. That's the pledge every member takes when he gets sworn in and that's the pledge you oughtta be concerned about."
Talking about the buyer's remorse building against Norquist and his pledge, Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), who also serves on the Super-Committee, said, "That should be a lesson to all of us. The only pledge should be to the Constitution of the United States."
He's right and this "put the Constitution first" message is gaining steam. That's why today, Constitutional Accountability Center, the public interest law firm I direct, has sent a message to the offices of every Member of Congress who has signed the Norquist pledge to ask those Members two specific questions:
(1) Do you currently feel bound by the anti-tax pledge held and enforced by Grover Norquist's organization, Americans for Tax Reform?
(2) Do you believe that your Oath of Office to support the Constitution trumps Mr. Norquist's pledge and any other special interest pledge?
This morning we also delivered to the Washington, D.C. offices of Americans for Tax Reform more than 13,000 letters from people across America telling Norquist that he should acknowledge that the oath of office Members of Congress swear to the Constitution trumps his pledge.
We hope that every Member of Congress, and Grover Norquist himself, will affirm that the Constitution must always come first. At the very least, the public servants who have signed his pledge need to answer these very simple questions.
There is a lot riding on this. If public officials can't make a simple declaration that the Constitution comes first, then the Republic itself is in serious jeopardy.
Join thousands of Americans in telling Grover Norquist to knock it off and put the Constitution first, by going to www.gridlockgrover.com today.
Follow Doug Kendall on Twitter: www.twitter.com/myconstitution