WASHINGTON -- It is very rare, if not unheard of, to catch a presidential candidate, especially a Republican, in the act of saying he or she would be willing to sign any tax increase that lawmakers wished for.
But that's what happened to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who has rocketed to a statistical tie in Iowa with Mitt Romney, largely as a result of the former Baptist minister's support from evangelical voters in the nation's first caucus state.
The Club for Growth, an effective tax-cut advocacy group, has been on Huckabee's back almost from the beginning of his candidacy, sending out e-mail blasts to party conservatives that paint an abominable picture of his record on taxes.
Huckabee has been campaigning as a tax cutter, and indeed he did slash some state taxes during his two terms as governor, but he raised far more than he cut. The Cato Institute, which monitors the fiscal records of the nation's governors, gave him a poor-to-failing grade on spending and taxes.
The Club for Growth has also examined his tax and spend record and found it wanting. Its verdict: Huckabee could not be trusted to hold the line on taxes, let alone push it back.
Huckabee of course rejects the charges and said they do not take into account the many taxes he also cut. He insists he is a committed tax-cutter who could be trusted to shrink the size of government.
But seeing is believing, and the visual record backs the Club for Growth up; the Arkansas Journal blog has uncovered a video of Huckabee addressing the state legislature, virtually begging them to raise any taxes they wanted, and saying that he would sign the increases into law.
Here's what then-Gov. Huckabee told Arkansas lawmakers: "Again, let me state what I've said privately as well as publicly, but I want to get it on the record again. There's a lot of support for a tax at the wholesale level for tobacco, and that's fine with me; I will very happily sign that because it's a revenue stream that will meet the needs if enacted at a level that will help us to meet that $90 to $100 million target, and that's what I would begin to focus your attention on -- is the target.
"Some have suggested the retail level of tobacco; if that ends up being your preference, I will accept that. Others have suggested a surcharge on the income tax; that's acceptable; I'm fine with that. Others have suggested, perhaps, a sales tax; that's fine.
"Yet others have suggested a hybrid that will collect some monies from any one or a combination of those various ideas, and if that's the plan that the House and Senate agree upon, then you will have nothing but my profound thanks."
This does not sound like someone who is willing to hold the line on taxes, nor find places in his budget-as many governors have done-where he could cut spending instead of having taxpayers foot the bills for bigger and bigger government.
Huckabee says he would like to eliminate the Internal Revenue Service and replace the income tax with the so-called Fair Tax, which would impose a national sales tax on virtually everything we buy. But such a tax would be a disaster for this country, especially for low- and middle-income Americans who spend a disproportionate portion of their earnings -- in many cases all of it -- on the necessities of life.
It would wreak untold havoc on the business community, driving down retail sales and creating an underground economy that would undermine America's productive marketplace -- especially small businesses that produce most of the jobs in our country.
The Club for Growth was formed with one purpose in mind: to promote economic growth by lowering the tax rates, simplifying the tax code and providing tax incentives to expand business formation, savings, investment and economic opportunity. It has praised the tax-cut proposals of Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson and other contenders for the Republican nomination.
But last week Huckabee labeled the respected tax-cutting group "The Club for Greed," a charge that sounded more like the invective spewed forth from Al Gore, Howard Dean or socialist Bernie Sanders.
The Arkansas Republican is fond of bashing corporate CEOs and their salaries, thinks a higher minimum wage won't hurt entry-level job creation, and apparently doesn't mind slapping higher sales taxes on the most vulnerable people in our economy.
The next president will face huge fiscal issues in 2009: such as rising entitlements that threaten to engulf the federal budget and what to do about President Bush's tax cuts which are due to expire in 2010, a demise that would raise taxes by trillions of dollars.
That's when we're going to need strong, principled leadership to keep a likely Democratic Congress from sending income taxes through the roof. It's something Iowa voters need to think deeply about in the days to come.