Read Sen. Levin's Lips: Republicans Must Break Their Tax Pledge

By Susan Jones | November 26, 2012 | 6:50 AM EST

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) says Republicans must move away from the "ideologically rigid position" of pledging not to raise taxes. (AP Photo)

( - As members of Congress return to Washington to tackle the looming "fiscal cliff," a combination of automatic tax hikes and deep spending cuts, the big question is whether Republicans will give in to Democrats' demands to raise taxes. And it looks like they might.

"The key here is whether or not the Republicans will move away from the ideologically rigid position, which has been the Grover Norquist pledge, which most of them signed, that they will not go for additional revenue (higher taxes)," Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.

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"When they move away from that pledge -- and they must, as, by the way, all the presidents that I have ever served with, including Reagan, Clinton, and the first George Bush, moved away from a position, no additional taxes. They all added revenues to deficit reduction -- a significant amount of revenues."

Levin insisted that Congress must raise additional revenues by boosting tax rates for the wealthy: "They have to go up -- either real tax rates of effective tax rates," he said. "There's ways of doing that," he added, including closing "significant loopholes."

Already some Republicans are showing signs of abandoning the no-tax pledge promoted by fiscal conservative Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform, in the early 1990s.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said last week that the no-tax pledge he signed 20 years ago "was valid then" and is "valid now," but he added, "time have changed significantly, and I care more about this country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge."

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, "I agree entirely with Saxby Chambliss. A pledge you signed 20 years ago, 18 years ago, is for that Congress. For instance, if I were in Congress in 1941 I would have signed the -- I was for the Declaration of War against Japan. I'm not going to attack Japan today. The world has changed, and the economic situation is different."

Although King said he is personally opposed to tax increases, "I think everything should be on the table," he told NBC's David Gregory. "The fact is, the speaker (Republican ep. John Boehner) and the majority leader (Democratic Sen. Harry Reid) and the president are going to be in a room trying to find the best package. I'm not going to prejudge it, and I'm just saying we should not be taking iron-clad positions. I have faith that John Boehner can put together a good package. I think, so far, he's been pretty conciliatory in his language."

King said he believes Boehner will do all he can to avoid an increase in tax rates. "But as Senator Levin said, you can get the same results by changing deductions, changing exemptions, and that would put more of a tax burden on the rich, but it would not affect marginal tax rates."

The bottom line, King said, is to prevent the nation from going over the fiscal cliff.

"We have to show the world we're adults, the election is over. We have a speaker, the Democrats have -- oh, they have the president, but the president is the speaking for the Democratic Party. The Democrats have Harry Reid, we have Mitch McConnell. Get them in the room, and that's what representative government should be about. No one gets all they want."

King said both tax hikes and spending cuts have to "be on the table."

"President Obama won, he won fair and square. We won the House, we won it fair and square. The Democrats will control the Senate, a slight edge to the Democrats. Bottom line is that it's over with. Let's find a way to get it resolved as much as possible between now and the end of the year so both the new Congress and the president in his second term can start off with a clean slate.

"We have so many issues around the world, let's resolve what we can here and stop jockeying for position.

"I have a lot of faith in John Boehner. I'll leave it at that," King concluded.

On Fox News Sunday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he would "be very much opposed" to raising tax rates, "but I do believe we can close a lot of loopholes." He specifically mentioned limiting the deductions for charitable giving and home mortgages.

"And obviously we are going to have to look at entitlement reform. Entitlement reform is the only way we are going to really get the debt and deficit under control. And we've got to take it on," McCain said.

The fiscal cliff refers to the full range of tax increases and automatic spending cuts that will take effect on Jan. 1 unless Congress agrees on another way to reduce the federal budget deficit.

As previously reported, in the lame-duck 112th Congress, 238 House members took the Americans for Tax Reform pledge, in which they promised to oppose any and all efforts to increase marginal tax rates.

Since the House has 435 members (218 being a majority), some members who took the pledge would need to break it for a tax increase to be enacted.

In the 113th Congress, which takes over in January, 219 House members have taken the ATR pledge. That is still a majority of the House, meaning after the New Year, some House members would need to break their no-tax increase pledge for a tax increase to be enacted.

The pledge that the House members took reads as follows:

“I, [name of candidate], pledge to the taxpayers of the state of [name of state], and to the American people that I will: One, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and two, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”