The Republican Party once had a home for the thinking of U.S. Sens. Tom Coburn, Mike Crapo and Saxby Chambliss. But that party is long gone.

The three banded together a few months ago in support of higher tax revenue as a means of rebalancing the federal budget. Even with drastic spending cuts, they concluded that Washington could not vanquish its $14.3 trillion debt without more income.

Such reasoning was common in the GOP circa 1963, when Republicans denounced tax cuts proposed by President Kennedy as a road to red ink and rampant inflation. But today’s GOP adheres to a “no new taxes” orthodoxy that has proved far more powerful than the desire to balance the budget. As House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said: Raising taxes is “unacceptable and a nonstarter.”

All but 13 of 288 GOP lawmakers in Congress have signed a formal pledge not to raise taxes. The strategist who invented the pledge, Grover Norquist, compares it to a brand, like Coca-Cola, built on “quality control” so that Republican voters know they will get “the same thing every time.”

Loyalty to the brand is so strong that no Republican has backed a major federal tax increase since 1991, Norquist says. More than a dozen governors and hundreds of state legislators now count themselves as adherents. And its followers, he says, are constantly patrolling at both the state and federal levels for new forms of trespass.

In California, the pledge is interpreted to bar legislators from asking voters to decide whether certain existing taxes should be extended. In Pennsylvania, the pledge is cited as a barrier to imposing an “impact” fee on the environmentally questionable business of extracting gas from underground shale.

Norquist has admonished Coburn, R-Okla., Crapo, R-Idaho, and Chambliss, R-Ga., for suggesting a tax option for tackling the debt: Reducing credits and deductions worth an estimated $1 trillion a year. Although most of the cash would be used to lower tax rates for everyone, a portion would be dedicated to restoring national solvency.

No good, says Norquist’s group, Americans for Tax Reform. Under the pledge, raising revenue in any way requires an equal tax cut elsewhere to avoid expanding the size of government. And, yes, that sometimes means protecting tax breaks that Republicans view as bad public policy, Norquist and his supporters say.

The GOP’s three-decade campaign against taxes has clearly had a significant impact. Neither major party wants a return to the 1970s, when people earning more than $200,000 a year faced a top rate of 70 percent. But the top rate is now half that and, thanks in part to the recent recession, tax collections have hit their lowest level as a share of the economy in 60 years.

Major tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 also contributed to the decline in revenue — and helped drive up budget deficits. Today, the spiraling debt ranks well ahead of too-high taxes on the list of economic concerns. And the GOP’s hard line on the issue stands, alongside Democratic resistance to cutting federal retirement benefits, as the biggest obstacle to a bipartisan agreement to tackle that problem.

“Grover’s not realistic,” said former Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., a self-described “Reagan robot” elected to Congress in 1980. Gregg retired last year after serving with Coburn and Crapo on the bipartisan fiscal commission that recommended stabilizing borrowing by trimming tax breaks and sharply cutting spending.

With Medicare and Social Security rolls set to double, Gregg said, “your government is inevitably going to grow. And you’re either going to have to finance that, or you’re going to end up running the country into the ditch.”

In recent weeks, prominent Republicans have urged a more flexible approach to taxes. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan joined the chorus Friday, dropping his support for the 2001 George W. Bush tax cuts. Greenspan told CNBC he’s so “scared” by the debt that he now favors a return to the higher rates of the Clinton administration.

Martin Feldstein, a Harvard economist who served as chief economic adviser in the Reagan White House, supports the commission’s approach to raising money by ending tax breaks.

“When the government gives a tax credit to homeowners who buy solar energy panels, it’s just like giving them a cash subsidy to buy those panels,” he wrote last week in the conservative Weekly Standard, suggesting capping the value of deductions and credits at 2 percent of adjusted income.

“Although government accounting rules treat the end of a tax credit or the limit of a tax deduction as a revenue increase, the economic effect is the same as a cut in spending,” Feldstein wrote. “Anyone who favors less government spending should also favor cutting tax expenditures.”

But equating tax breaks with spending “is a threat to the modern Republican Party’s worldview,” Norquist argues.

That worldview supports eliminating tax breaks, Norquist said, but only if all the proceeds are used to push tax rates “down as far as possible.” The work of reducing the national debt must be done entirely by shrinking government, he said. Any compromise that includes taxes would hinder that goal.

For decades, Republicans had a reputation as the party of fiscal responsibility. Dwight Eisenhower maintained wartime tax rates throughout his eight-year presidency, dramatically reducing the national debt.

Congressional Republicans objected to Kennedy’s tax cut, arguing that any reduction in revenue should be pared with spending cuts to avoid ballooning deficits. Richard Nixon supported extending a surtax to pay for the Vietnam War. And Gerald Ford opposed a permanent tax cut in 1974, fearing budget deficits, said historian Bruce Bartlett.

Three factors helped rewrite the party’s economic doctrine, Bartlett said: In the late 1970s, key Republicans concluded that lower tax rates would boost the flagging economy. The new theory of supply-side economics held that such a tax cut would spur so much growth that it would generate more revenue. And the Proposition 13 tax revolt hit California, demonstrating the power of tax cuts as a political issue.

Ronald Reagan capitalized on growing anti-tax sentiment in his campaign for president, and quickly pushed a tax package that slashed rates, a move credited with energizing the long-sluggish economy. Reagan went back to Congress in 1986 with an overhaul of the tax code that pushed the top rate down to 28 percent. At Reagan’s request, Norquist founded Americans for Tax Reform, and the pledge was born.

In his race to succeed Reagan, George H.W. Bush embraced the pledge, saying, “Read my lips, no new taxes.” But as president, he raised tax rates as part of a balanced-budget deal with Democrats.

His loss to Bill Clinton in 1992 “proved for all time, that even though tax increases may be justified economically, they are never justified politically if you’re a Republican,” Bartlett said.