Grover Norquist is under fire. Unjustly.
With Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham, Saxby Chambliss, Rep. Peter King and others seemingly deserting Grover Norquist and the Taxpayer Protection Pledge created by his organization, Americans for Tax Reform, media outlets across the spectrum are declaring that the GOP is “Over Grover” and that his vicelike grip of eternal dominance on the GOP might not be so eternal after all. We have images like this one, showing Republican leaders bowing to him as if he is a god. And on and on and on.
What it really is, though, is just another round of misinformation, wrong data, and interpretations based on faulty premises. Yet another sideshow that is completely missing the point, the real debate we should be having in DC.
I think the first myth that should be busted is that Grover is somehow a demigod that Republican party members worship through blood sacrifices, and that any deviance from his Holy Writ leads to him damning the Republican to eternal hell and striking said Republican down with a lightning bolt. I’m sure Grover would like to have that power—I mean, let’s face it, who wouldn’t want the power to strike down Congresscritters with lightning?—but he doesn’t have it. He’s just one man. A powerful man, to be sure, but there are lots of powerful men (and women) running around inside the Beltway, commanding a lot more power than Grover does. (I mean, hell, Obama has the NDAA. Next to him, Grover is nothing. No offense.) How long ago were people saying that Rush Limbaugh ran the GOP?
So Grover is not a demigod. What he is a damn good leader. He’s a damn good coalition builder. He’s a damn good taxpayer advocate. He gets stuff done and makes things happen. You have to respect that.
Secondly, the Taxpayer Protection Pledge is not an oath of loyalty to Grover Norquist. The Pledge is a pledge to the American taxpayer. When a politician signs the pledge, he is not saying “Grover, I will do everything you tell me to do, for you are my lord and savior.” What the politician is saying is that he or she will safeguard their constituents by not raising ruinous taxes on them that take more and more of their money and give it to self-serving bureaucrats and elected officials? Now I will grant that the Pledge is a purely political thing for most politicians, it’s just something they can trot out in elections, and they really don’t care (because, regrettably, a great many politicians do not have principles). But that doesn’t change the fact that the Pledge is not to Grover, it is to American taxpayers.
Now I will say this: I generally am not a fan of constraining pledges like this one. Regrettably, politics is the art of the compromise, and ideological purity does not get you that far. On this issue, however, I am firmly with the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. The problem is not the revenue that the government brings in. It’s not the tax rates at all. The problem is the government spending. There is simply no amount of tax rates—not even 100% on 100% of the people—that will be able to pay for our massive debt load and deficits, so we have to continue funding the government through borrowing. That is the height of irresponsibility, and insanity.
When an individual is in a budget hole, they don’t immediately say “I must increase revenue.” You can’t. What they do instead is say “I must cut back expenses.” That is the logical, common-sense approach. Of course, in DC, “common sense” is that black is white, up is down, and left is right, so it doesn’t fly.
Thus, it is only logical to hold the line on tax policy. We cannot and must increase taxes, not unless some very drastic things happen.
If someone told me that I magically had the power to flick a switch and give the country a flat tax, but that simple and fair tax system would only be possible if the rate was set high enough to give the government an extra $100 billion of revenue each year, I would take the deal in a heartbeat.
If I was given the opportunity to abolish the Departments of Energy, Education, Transportation, Agriculture, and Housing and Urban Development, but I had to give the politicians an extra $100 billion of revenue per year in exchange, I’d say yes right away.
And if I had the chance to adopt Medicare reform, Medicaid reform, and Social Security reform, and all I had to give up was $100 billion of added annual tax revenue, I wouldn’t hesitate to give my approval.
To be fair, I would take that as well. Austrian macroeconomist Mike Shedlock writes that he would take a tax increase as well if structural reforms such as eliminating collective bargaining for public unions and scrapping the Davis-Bacon Act were on the table. I would also accept tax increases in exchange for that. Heck, even Grover himself gets it (kinda):
Grover pointed out that lawmakers like Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Rep. Peter King of New York have said they would break their pledge only in exchange for a laundry list of reforms and cuts, which Norquist says Democrats will never agree to.
“I’ve had long conversations with Lindsey Graham. He says I would raise taxes ‘if,’ then he lists this incredible list of reforms and entitlements that the Democrats would never give him,” Norquist said on CNN’s Starting Point. “I suggested, Senator, you’re offering to trade a tax increase for a pink unicorn that doesn’t exist.”
So once again, we have a media that is ignoring the real issues, and instead focusing on one man because that’s easier to do. This isn’t about Grover. This isn’t about some pledge. What this is about is that tax-and-spend policies do not work, and are completely illogical, and that what we need is some common sense. But naturally, that’s too boring for the media. They want drama and excitement…and what’s more exciting than a large, messy, public breakup?