Grover Norquist’s Tortured Logic

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012 and is filed under Blog, Debt, Taxes

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Since the beginning of the tax debate, we made sure to refer to the GOP tax pledge as their pledge to constituents, not Grover Norquist.  The media has made Norquist out to be some kind of puppet master in the background preventing Republicans from raising taxes.  But the truth is that the pledge was never about Norquist or his organization.  It represented an affirmation to their constituents that Republicans understood the proper role of government and recognized that current revenues are more than what’s needed to run a constitutionally-sanctioned government.

The reason why it’s important to realize this is because there are many problems with Norquist.  He is squishy on many other issues outside of tax policy.  In fact, he gave his blessing to the disastrous debt ceiling deal of 2011.  Now, he has announced his plans to abjure the one principle he always stood for – not raising taxes.  He has bought into the Boehner narrative that their plan to raise taxes for the first time in over two decades is actually a tax cut.  Here is the statement released by Americans for Tax Reform:

ATR has consistently maintained that individual Members of Congress make a pledge to their constituents to oppose and vote against tax increases.  The House this week will vote on a tax bill.  This legislation—popularly known as “Plan B”–permanently prevents a tax increase on families making less than $1 million per year.  Republicans supporting this bill are this week affirming to their constituents in writing that this bill—the sole purpose of which is to prevent tax increases—is consistent with the pledge they made to them.  In ATR’s analysis, it is extremely difficult—if not impossible—to fault these Republicans’ assertion.

In particular, in this Congress the House has already voted twice to prevent any tax increases on any American.  When viewed with this in mind, and considering this tax bill contains no tax increases of any kind—in fact, it permanently prevents them—matters become more clear.  Having finally seen actual legislation in writing, ATR is now able to make its determination about a legislative proposal related to the fiscal cliff. ATR will not consider a vote for this measure a violation of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.

This statement is outrageous and stupefying.  Here are a few things to consider:

  • The fact that the Bush-era tax rates are automatically scheduled to expire was no secret that was just discovered.  The fact that Democrats would block a full extension is nothing new.  We always knew we’d be confronting this.  Norquist was out front-and-center decrying any effort to raise taxes, including any plan that would raise revenue through capping deductions.  Now he is blessing an outright rate increase under the guise of this being an impossible situation, even though nothing has changed since he issued his earlier statements.
  • If you take this line of thinking to its logical conclusion, then any tax increase that is inevitable to pass because of Democrat strong-arming or control of government should be considered as if it’s already reality.  As such, any Republican counter offer to raise taxes, albeit at a lower rate, should be welcomed as a tax cut.  So let’s say Obama makes it inevitable that cap and trade will pass; should we just pass a watered-down version and call it a tax cut?
  • Isn’t it precisely in these situations where we need a tax pledge?  ATR cites the earlier votes from the House to fully extend the Bush tax rates as affirmation that they don’t support tax increases.  But what good is it to vote against tax increases when it doesn’t matter and fold when it really counts?  It’s like going out in your backyard and kicking a soccer ball into a goal without having to confront a goalie, and then congratulating yourself.  Here’s what ATR says on their website about emergency situations:  “Can the language of the Pledge be altered to allow exceptions?  No.  There are no exceptions to the Pledge. Tax-and-spend politicians often use “emergencies” to justify increasing taxes. In the unfortunate event of a real crisis or natural disaster, the legislator should propose spending cuts in other areas to finance the emergency response.”


There is also a broader point that is being overlooked.  This is not about the less than 1% who will see their taxes rise, as supporters of Boehner have suggested.  This is about the past and the future.  Republicans have gone for two decades without raising taxes.  By supporting this bill, which won’t even be the final capitulation and will never become law, Republicans will pave the road for endless tax increases.  Once they publicly buy into Obama’s premise, it’s all over.  He can demand a balanced approach to the debt ceiling as well, and on some superficial level, it will poll well with the public.  And once you raise taxes on those over $1 million, and ultimately, those over $400-500k as part of the final deal, why not raise taxes on those earning more than 200k?  Why not raise the gasoline tax?  Bill Shuster, the Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is already on record as supporting a gas tax increase.

The bottom line is that Republicans have already publicly agreed to the premise that we need d more revenue and that the first source of that revenue should come from the rich.  This vote will remove the dyke that is standing between us and a torrent of tax increases, and vitiate everything the pledge was designed to do.

This was never about Grover, ATR, the rich, or the Bush tax cuts.  This is about fundamentally deracinating the last strong principle of the modern day Republican Party in an attempt to inexorably grow the size of government.  In that sense, this vote will serve as the most egregious violation of the tax pledge of all time.