U.S. Sen. Bob Corker broke with conservative orthodoxy on national television Monday, becoming the latest congressional Republican to disavow a popular pledge to oppose all tax increases.
Sponsored by Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, the antitax pledge until recently defined fiscal policy for most Republicans, including Corker. The former Chattanooga mayor signed the pledge before his 2006 election to the Senate, but Monday he made it clear he's rethinking that commitment.
"I'm not obligated on the pledge," Corker told "CBS This Morning." "I made Tennesseans aware -- I was just elected -- that the only thing I'm honoring is the oath that I take when ... I'm sworn in this January."
The Norquist pledge calls for signers to oppose income tax hikes for individuals and businesses. It also discourages reductions of credits and deductions unless they're matched "dollar for dollar" with further tax cuts.
Corker's timing is significant given the looming "fiscal cliff" that would impose a $500 billion combination of tax increases and spending cuts if Congress doesn't act before Jan. 1.
The coming upheaval involves several simultaneous changes, including the expiration of the temporary payroll-tax holiday and the George W. Bush-era tax cuts. At the same time, Congress joined last summer's debt-limit increase with $1.2 trillion in federal spending cuts slated for early 2013.
On CBS, Corker said averting the fiscal cliff is a "very easy thing to do technically" assuming "there are two parties that are willing to solve this problem." Democrats believe higher taxes on the wealthy are essential to an agreement, but it's hard to know whether Corker will meet them in the middle.
The day before his CBS appearance, Corker in a Washington Post op-ed unveiled his own "fiscal cliff" deal that caps federal deductions at $50,000 "without raising tax rates."
Corker's 242-page plan hasn't been introduced yet, but the senator on Monday said it would create $1 trillion in new revenues. It also includes "comprehensive Medicare reform that keeps in place fee-for-service Medicare without capping growth, competing side by side with private options that seniors can choose instead if they wish."
Without getting specific, the Corker op-ed recommends gradual age hikes within Medicare and Social Security and increasing premiums "ever so slightly" for those making more than $50,000 a year in retirement. More details are expected soon.
Corker during his re-election campaign hinted at his Norquist defection when he introduced a "questionnaire and pledge policy" on his website this summer.
"Going forward," he wrote, "the sole pledge I commit to is upholding my solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States."
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais and the other five congressional Republicans from Tennessee are fellow pledge signers. But they differ in their loyalty to the document.
In a statement Monday, Alexander echoed Corker, declaring he isn't "bound by any pledge other than the oath to support and defend the Constitution."
Chattanooga's congressman took the opposite stance.
"In the past, there have been many agreements that immediately raise revenue with a promise of spending cuts at some unspecified point down the road," Fleischmann spokesman Alek Vey said. "As these agreements have not been successful, Rep. Fleischmann thinks that we must first have real spending cuts before revenue is even put on the table."
DesJarlais and U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., did not respond to requests for comment on the Norquist pledge, but U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga, and U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., recently described it as outdated. Another top Republican, U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, said he was willing to ignore the pledge if Democrats agree to restructure entitlements.
Americans for Tax Reform still includes Alexander and Corker in its written list of pledge devotees for the upcoming 113th Congress.
A Norquist spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at email@example.com or 423-757-6610.