As the nation careens toward the fiscal cliff and negotiations between Congress and the White House seem to be moving at a snail's pace, many Republican lawmakers find themselves between a rock and a hard place.
If a deal isn't reached by the end of the month, the tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush will expire, and the sequestration process kicks in.
Sequestration is a set of more than $1 trillion in arbitrary federal spending cuts over 10 years -- including nearly $500 billion in defense spending -- put in place as a result of last year's deal to raise the nation's debt ceiling and an attempt to rein in a roughly $1.2 trillion budget deficit and more than $16 trillion in federal debt.
The problem for 238 representatives, two of them Democrats, and 41 senators, including one Democrat, is they have signed the anti-tax pledge drafted by anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, who leads Americans for Tax Reform.
Most economists agree that the solution to the problem is a mix of revenue increases and cuts -- with many analysts favoring a ratio of roughly $3 in cuts for every $1 in additional revenue.
At this point in the talks President Barack Obama is sticking to the position he successfully campaigned on -- letting the Bush-tax cuts expire for incomes over $250,000. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who has signed the Norquist pledge, has countered with a plan that raises revenues by capping deductions and closing loopholes to the tune of $850 billion while keeping the Bush tax cuts in place.
For those who have signed on with Norquist, agreeing to either proposal would break the pledge.
That could cause electoral problems down the road, especially in primaries where outcomes are "even more vulnerable to the influence of party bases," said Old Dominion University political science professor Jesse Richman.
For two local Republican members of Congress -- Reps. Rob Wittman of Westmoreland and Scott Rigell of Virginia Beach -- voting for revenue increases is less of a problem.
Wittman has never signed the no-tax pledge. He reiterated his position on signing political pledges Tuesday.
"My duty in Congress is to represent the people of Virginia's 1st District, and the only oaths I've taken are to my wife of 32 years and to uphold the Constitution," Wittman said.
Wittman said in any discussions of the nation's fiscal problems, "it's critical that fundamental tax reform be a part of the equation."
"At the same time, my commitment remains to address the unsustainable spending of the federal government, which is driving our deficit," Wittman said. "I believe that in order to get our fiscal house in order, we must cut duplicative and unnecessary government spending, as well as ensure that the spending in our autopilot programs is efficient and sustainable in order to preserve and protect these programs for future beneficiaries."
Rigell signed the pledge when he first ran for Congress in 2010, but his position has changed.
In March Rigell publicly renounced the pledge when he came to believe the country's fiscal problems couldn't be solved by cuts alone. He openly and successfully campaigned for re-election on the need for both revenue increases and budget cuts.
Rigell said he came to his decision after looking over data from the Congressional Budget Office.
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