On Monday, U.S. Senator Bob Corker, R-Tenn., issued the single most responsible, reasonable and realistic plan to address the "fiscal cliff" seen thus far.
In order to evade the economy-butchering tax hikes and the automatic spending cuts scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1, Corker proposed a blueprint to curb entitlements and reduce other spending by common-sense solutions. These solutions, such as slowly increasing the age of eligibility for Medicare and Social Security to reflect soaring longevity, introducing means testing for entitlements and implementing a benefits system for federal employees more in line with what private sector workers enjoy, will save taxpayers trillions of dollars without impacting the quality of government services.
In his plan, Corker also champions a long-overdue change in how the federal government calculates price increases and inflation for inflation-indexed federal programs. This improvement would help federal spending increases stay more in line with economic growth, rather than expanding astronomically year after year.
Corker's plan isn't all trimming budgetary fat and controlling future spending. The senator also takes a page out of failed GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's idea of capping federal tax deductions. In Corker's case, he wants to limit loopholes and tax write-offs to $50,000 a year.
Corker deserves praise and admiration for taking the lead on this pressing issue and, barring unwarranted and irresponsible opposition by Senate Democrats or President Barack Obama about the very reasonable methods used to contain future entitlement spending, almost single-handedly solving the fiscal cliff crisis.
As great as Corker's plan to avoid the fiscal cliff is, however, it also represents a broken promise to his constituents. It could also invite the very real chance of a legitimate, well-funded opponent if Corker chooses to run for re-election in 2018.
When he first ran for Senate in 2006, Corker signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. Upon signing the pledge, administered by Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), Corker promised Tennessee's voters that he would "oppose and vote against tax increases" for as long as he served in the United State Senate.
Because Corker's fiscal cliff deal includes the annual $50,000 cap on federal deductions, the senator is proposing a tax hike for some. In other words, according to the pledge, Corker is breaking his promise to Tennesseans that he would not increase taxes.
ATR, led by taxpayer hero Grover Norquist, has been extremely effective in using the pledge to prevent tax increases at the federal and state levels.
The pledge allows the reduction or elimination of deductions and tax credits, but only if a tax cut is also implemented at the same time to offset the increase in taxes. Offering tax cuts in the proposal would likely make Corker's deal untenable for Democrats, who stand ready - mouths' foaming like a pack of rabid dogs - to hike taxes.
Norquist has promised to go after members of congress who break the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, even to pass Corker's plan. This may be a good time for Norquist and the fine folks at ATR to reassess the pledge since, realistically, not agreeing to a deal before the New Year's deadline would result in much steeper tax increases for nearly every taxpayer in America. Corker's $50,000 cap on deductions seems like a steal for taxpayers in comparison.
For the sake of America, let's hope Corker's plan passes. For the sake of Corker's integrity and political future, however, it's unfortunate that may be best if it never even reaches the Senate floor. Either way, it's too bad that a pledge that has helped to keep tax rates low for decades may ultimately cost taxpayers trillions in new taxes.