The Oath of Office

December 22, 2011
Op-Ed

Published in the San Franisco Chronicle.

By Anna G. Eshoo (D-Palo Alto)

The Constitution gave birth to the world's greatest democracy and stands as our country's timeless statement of our fundamental laws, beliefs and ideals. It requires an oath of office for those selected as guardians of our principles.

At the opening of each new Congress, we "solemnly swear ... to support and defend the Constitution of the United States ... to bear true faith and allegiance ..." and to "well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office." I took this oath, and I keep this oath sacred. But today, the Founding Fathers' shared ideals enshrined in the Constitution stand marred by special interests.

Sadly, before taking the oath to our Constitution, 233 of my colleagues in the House of Representatives and 41 members of the Senate had already pledged their allegiance to a lobbyist, Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform. By signing his Taxpayers Protection Pledge, these members have vowed to oppose any and all efforts to ever increase taxes on businesses and individuals, and to protect all tax breaks and deductions.

On the surface, this pledge might seem tolerable, to some admirable. But in practice, this special-interest oath is jeopardizing our country's fiscal health. In recent years, the pledge has effectively prevented any compromise. Pledge legislators have kept Congress from moving forward or accomplishing vital legislative goals, such as deficit reduction and job creation.

We most recently witnessed the destructive power of this pledge with the failure of the so-called supercommittee that was tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in cuts to the federal budget for deficit reduction. Its failure sadly surprised nobody. Every Republican on the supercommittee had signed this pledge and refused to consider closing tax loopholes, raising revenue or increasing any taxes.

As part of a balanced approach to reduce the deficit, Democrats on the supercommittee were willing to meet Republicans halfway. However, throughout the deliberations, it was clear that the Republicans would not violate their antitax pledge. Instead, they claimed that taxes are too high and that any increases or elimination of loopholes would stifle future economic growth. Nothing could be further from the truth.

When President Ronald Reagan - known as an antitax crusader - signed the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982, some called it one of the biggest tax increases in history. But its goal was simple - cut the budget deficit. And our deficit then, as a percentage of GDP, was smaller than it is today by almost 4 percent. Reagan's compromise lowered the deficit and helped create jobs during an unemployment and economic crisis. President Reagan's words in 1982 ring true now: "The goal is simple and just - to see to it that everyone pays his fair share."

Reagan's tax increases did not stifle the economy. In fact, our country's GDP increased by 4.5 percent in 1983 and by 7.2 percent in 1984. And the unemployment rate fell from 10.6 percent in December 1982 to 7.1 percent in December 1984. Taxes today are lower than they were in the 1980s, and tax receipts as a percentage of the nation's gross domestic product are the lowest they have been since the 1950s. And yet pledge legislators won't budge.

I believe it's our job as elected representatives to find reasonable solutions to our nation's significant problems. And serious legislators know that a balanced approach must always be sought. President Reagan certainly did.

So far, seven legislators have said they want their names taken off the antitax pledge. I pray more do. Every option needs to be on the table in our combined efforts to reduce the deficit and create jobs. It's time that more members of Congress remember the sacred oath we took when we were sworn in ... the real one, not the one to a lobbyist.

Anna G. Eshoo, a Democrat, represents California's 14th Congressional District.