The no-tax pledge that many Republican officeholders have vowed to uphold remains a highly divisive issue in Washington in the weeks leading up to negotiations over the fiscal cliff -- a reality apparent in the results of National Journal's Insiders Poll this week.
Half of Republican Insiders said the no-tax pledge was "not harmful" to the party politically, while almost six out of ten Democratic Insiders said it was "very harmful." About the same proportion of Democratic and Republican Insiders -- four out of ten -- said the pledge was "somewhat harmful."
Both Republican and Democratic Insiders who considered the pledge politically toxic said that it took away flexibility from Republican lawmakers as they sit down to iron out the details of a budget deal.
"We can't begin to address the serious problems this country has by being totally rigid on tax policy or any other policy for that matter," one Republican said. "It's too broad and constrains the party's political dexterity," another added.
Democrats chimed in with the same refrain. "Where the Republicans were perceived as dogmatic and rigid, they got slaughtered. This is issue numero uno on the dogma scale," one said. "It reinforces the mindless rigidity of the party which borders on irrational," another agreed.
Is the GOP's no-tax pledge politically harmful to the party??
Others also said a no-tax pledge seemed incompatible with good governance and policymaking given the current fiscal climate.
"The hardliners fail to recognize the extreme complexity of the tax code and that a no-tax pledge will destroy our chances to get fundamental reform," one Republican lamented, while a Democrat assessed, "It is not possible to be faithful to the pledge and reduce the deficit and pay down the debt."
Others said the pledge was only politically harmful to the extent that it portrayed Republicans as trying to shield the rich.
"The longer they look like they're protecting Richie Rich's piggy bank, the worse it will get for them," a Democrat said. "This depends entirely on how the GOP is positioned. If it is defending the rich, then we are dead," a GOP Insider noted.
There were plenty of Republicans, however, that offered a full-throated defense of the pledge as a key expression of GOP principles.
"Good grief. What are we for if not limited government?" one Republican said.
"If Republicans cave on taxes, then what do we become?" another asked. "The party opposed to abortion? Taxes and spending have always been the bedrock of the GOP -- caving on taxes could put us in the minority for generations."
Another added, "Know what's politically harmful? Breaking the pledge. Ask Bush 41."
At least one Democrat supported those sentiments.
"It's bad policy to oppose taxes, but it's like saying that you're opposed to chest colds," the Democrat said.