February 22, 2007

Read Their Lips?

The two Republican frontrunners have not yet signed a no-new-taxes pledge, despite the adoption of the pledge by rivals in the campaign. John McCain and Rudy Giuliani so far have not answered the query sent by the Americans for Tax Reform, usually an automatic for GOP nominees:

The two front-runners for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination -- Arizona Sen. John McCain and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani -- have not signed an anti-tax-increase pledge that has been embraced by several of their rivals.

The reluctance of the party's two leading candidates to sign the pledge, which has been signed by every Republican presidential nominee since 1988, raised concerns among conservative tax cutters about Mr. McCain's and Mr. Giuliani's commitment to reduce tax rates at a time when all of the Democratic presidential contenders have vowed to raise income taxes if they are elected. ...

The pledge, which asks the candidates to sign a statement declaring they will "oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates," could become an issue for both men as they vie for the support of their party's economic conservatives -- especially for Mr. McCain who was a foe of President Bush's tax cuts until he began actively running for president last year.

The Arizona senator, who has been aggressively reaching out to the conservative base of his party to secure the nomination, was one of only two Republicans who voted against Mr. Bush's $1.35 trillion across-the-board tax cuts in 2001. He also opposed accelerating the tax cuts in 2003, but changed his mind last year and voted to extend the tax cuts, including those on stock dividends and capital gains.

Mr. Giuliani has yet to fully set forth his views on tax policy, but, like Mr. McCain, has said that the Bush tax cuts, most of which are due to expire in 2010, should be made permanent.

It's early yet and both candidates may yet sign the pledge, but their names will appear down the list somewhat. Mitt Romney has already signed the ATR pledge, as well as Sam Brownback and Jim Gilmore. Mike Huckabee and Chuck Hagel have also not affixed their signatures to the pledge, although Hagel has signed it in his previous Senate campaigns.

How big of an issue will this be? For McCain and Giuliani, probably more so than the other candidates, except perhaps Hagel, who has no chance of winning even a respectable showing anyway. Conservatives have issues with both front-runners, and the ATR pledge is almost an entry fee to the caucus. It's the bare minimum for conservatives who want to see smaller government and fiscal discipline, and that cuts across most factions of the Republican Party. One does not reduce government by increasing its funding, after all.

McCain seems particularly vulnerable on this score. Giuliani hasn't tried to make himself into a die-hard conservative, preferring to rely on his leadership skills and record of executive effectiveness, while emphasizing those parts of his record that conservatives can support. McCain wants to run as the GOP's true conservative in this race, but he voted against the Bush tax cuts when they first came through Congress and until recently argued against making them permanent. A failure to sign the ATR pledge will call that commitment into question.

The ATR and the conservatives won't wait forever for the campaigns to make a decision, either. The pledge has been around for over 20 years and has the signatures of all major Republican presidential aspirants on it from that time, including the one who lost the base after he said, "Read my lips -- no new taxes!" It's no mystery to be unraveled, and it's a basic question on which conservative support rests. Do McCain and Giuliani commit to fighting tax increases if elected President? We're waiting to read their lips on this question.


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