Mitt Romney, frontrunner for the Republican 2011 presidential nomination, just signed the newest of the Republican fiscal pledges, the "Cut, Cap and Balance" vow supported by a coalition of conservative groups.
The pledge calls for its signers to oppose raising the debt ceiling unless legislation passes that requires deep spending cuts, enforceable spending caps and a balanced-budget amendment.
With Romney signing the pledge, at least six of the presidential candidates have now agreed to sign the pact. As of this writing, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Jon Huntsman Jr., the former Utah governor, have yet to sign. The former said she was reviewing it, the latter deciding against it.
As NPR's David Welna reported on Morning Edition, just because a candidate or policymaker signs a pledge doesn't mean they're 1) bound by it or 2) interpret it exactly how the pledge's author does.
David reports, for instance, that 30 Senate signers of the Americans for Tax Reform Taxpayer Protection Pledge voted earlier in June to cut ethanol subsidies. That's a loathsome tax increase, according to Grover Norquist, ATR's president.
But some Republicans are willing to defy Norquist to undo what they see as bad policy that reduces tax revenues at a time when U.S. policymakers are searching for ways to restrain the nation's ballooning deficits and debt.
An excerpt from the web version of David's story:
All this year, Norquist has feuded publicly with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK). Norquist insists Coburn's drive for a Senate repeal of a $6 billion annual tax break for ethanol was really a bid to raise taxes. Coburn says it was about ending a bad policy.
"It doesn't matter what anybody else's definition of that is," Coburn said. "Stupidity is stupidity."
Norquist says he's just tried to hold Coburn to his pledge not to raise taxes.
"Coburn would like to make this some sort of fight with me, but that's silly," he said. "His commitment, which is to the people of Oklahoma, is that he wouldn't vote for a tax increase. He's basically told them, 'I lied.'"
By implication, so did the 30 other Republicans who voted to end the ethanol tax break and who also signed the pledge:
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) is one of the seven Senate republicans who have not signed Norquist's tax pledge. She says she doesn't sign pledges.
"I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the Constitution, and that's it," she says.
She says her vote to end the ethanol subsidy could be the start of a trend.
"There may be other loopholes in the tax laws or incentives that are no longer needed or too expensive, simply not affordable, that we should ... take a look at," she says.
Some Republicans who did sign Norquist's pledge are also open to taking aim at more tax loopholes. These include Sen. John Cornyn of Texas.
"As Ronald Reagan said, the closest thing to eternal life on Earth is a temporary government program," he said. "And that's certainly true of some of these special tax provisions that are embedded throughout the tax code, that we needed to take a look at all of those."