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Is Norquistism fading?

As the game of chicken over the “fiscal cliff” continues, anti-tax champion Grover Norquist waits in the background, but not far in the background, as he publicly argues that the reelection of Pres. Obama was not a mandate for raising taxes, including especially marginal income tax rates and, of course, not even on the wealthiest Americans.

Norquist, who has been declared one of the five key players in the shaping of the post-Goldwater Republican Party, is the founder and leader of “Americans for Tax Reform.” ATR advocates for lower tax rates, backed by the old “supply side” argument that cutting taxes actually produces more revenue because it stimulates economic growth.

Americans for Tax Reform sponsors what it calls the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” by which signatories promise to:

“ Oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and …oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”

It should be noted that Norquist always says that this is not a pledge that candidates make to him, but a pledge they make to their own constituents, and the consequences of breaking the pledge are severe.

The pledge has been very influential in making opposition to tax increases fundamental to the Republican agenda. During the rise of Norquist, almost all Republican candidates for the presidency or for Congress signed the pledge and it was understood that refusal to sign often meant defeat in a Republican primary. Back when there were 11 Republicans seeking the presidential nomination, 10 of them had taken the pledge (the exception was Jon Huntsman).

In the last Congress, 95 percent of all Republicans had signed. But this year, about a dozen newly elected House Republicans refused to take the pledge and some of the former signers who were reelected have disavowed their allegiance to the pledge. In the outgoing House, a majority of all members were pledge abiders. In the new House, the number of abiders has fallen below a majority, which is probably evidence that the grip of Norquistism is starting to loosen a bit.

President Obama and many Democrats are arguing that because Obama was reelected and explicitly called for a return to the old, higher, pre-Bush tax cut marginal rate on those with the highest incomes, Republicans should accept the will of the voters and agree to that.

Norquist is having none of that, of course. Yesterday, on ”CBS This Morning,” Norquist was pressed to acknowledge that Obama had a mandate to raise taxes on the highest income individuals and families. He replied:

“The president was committed  — elected on the basis that he was not Romney and Romney was a poopyhead and you should vote against Romney, and he won by two points, but he didn’t make the case that we should have higher taxes and higher spending, he kind of sounded like the opposite.”

Yes, Norquist really did say “poopyhead.”

Now, if you contemplate Norquistism, it provides a clue to the post-election verbal gymnastics of House Speaker John Boehner. In his post-election statement on the looming fiscal cliff, Boehner, who usually doesn’t use a teleprompter, did so, and it might be because he had worked out a way of signaling flexibility and balance while still staying right with the inflexibility of the Norquist pledge. The first reaction in many quarters was that Boehner had said yes to a tax increase, but he really didn’t, he said yes to “new revenue” that comes “as the byproduct of a growing economy.” Parse this:

Boehner: “For purposes of forging a bipartisan agreement that begins to solve the problem, we’re willing to accept new revenue, under the right conditions. What matters is where the increased revenue comes from, and what type of reform comes with it.

“Does the increased revenue come from government taking a larger share of what the American people earn through higher tax rates? Or does it come as the byproduct of a growing economy, energized by a simpler, cleaner, fairer tax code, with fewer loopholes, and lower rates for all?”

Boehner cleverly put his trial balloon in the form of a question, but he has since clarified that he is not agreeing to the expiration of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest taxpayers, in fact, he is not agreeing to higher marginal rates on anyone. He is suggesting that he could go along with changes in tax credits and deductions that would be offset by lower rates, which is explicitly permitted by the Norquist pledge.

Personally, I assume that what Boehner and many of his fellow House Republicans are looking for is a way to do one of two things:

Abide by the Norquist pledge while appearing to be making painful concessions to contribute to deficit/debt reduction.

Accept higher taxes while appearing to be abiding by the Norquist pledge.

Stay tuned.

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 11/13/2012 - 10:56 am.

    The pledge reads as follows:


    I, _______________, pledge to the taxpayers of the _____ district of the state of__________, and to the American people that I will:
    ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and
    TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.

    (end quote)

    It seems pretty clear that “elimination of deductions and credits” has to be offset by reductions in tax rates, according to the Norquist diktat.

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 11/13/2012 - 11:00 am.

    ….Or does it come as the byproduct of a growing economy, energized by a simpler, cleaner, fairer tax code, with fewer loopholes, and lower rates for all?”….

    This is nothing but a repeat of supply-side economics (tax cuts spark growth which increases tax revenue) and a restatement of the second paragraph of the Norquist pledge.

    I don’t really see much retreat in this statement.

    Same old, same old…

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/15/2012 - 11:46 am.

      Archie Bunker

      Trickle down (supply side) economics always makes me think of Archie Bunker’s second floor toilet.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/13/2012 - 11:09 am.

    Mandate shmandate

    I think the hypocrisy of the Republican ideologues is finally wearing thin. Does anyone in the civilized world who knows anything about Norquist doubt that had Romney won by two points, or even less, Republicans would be stomping around with their new “mandate” not to raise taxes of any kind? In fact the only one I’ve heard declare a mandate has been the Republican speaker of the house.

    It’s not about mandates, it’s about solutions that work. The magic plan didn’t work, in fact it put our economy into the trash bin. Time for reality based action.

  4. Submitted by Pat McGee on 11/13/2012 - 11:33 am.


    One can only hope it fades into extinction.

  5. Submitted by John Rollings on 11/13/2012 - 01:24 pm.

    Paris Hilton Theory of Economics

    This theory of a tax cut equals more tax revenue and a booming economy sure worked well the two times it was tried during the Bush administration…and they added two economy stimulating wars to boot! The last time we had a balanced budget and a booming economy came during the Clinton years and it was after a tax increase.

    On the other hand, let’s keep those taxes low. Paris Hilton needs a new mansion in Italy.

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/13/2012 - 04:32 pm.

    We’re beyond

    …eye-rolling time. “…willing to accept new revenue?” How gracious of Congressional Republicans. In fact, if they’d mail some certified checks to my home, I’d be “willing to accept new revenue” as well.

    I do agree that a 2-point win doesn’t constitute much of a “mandate” for Obama, but the “fiscal cliff” is of Republican making, not Obama’s. If nothing happens, there will definitely be “new revenue,” since doing nothing ensures that the Bush tax cuts will expire. If you don’t like that, it’s the Republicans who should be on the receiving end of your ire, since it was their idea.

    Meanwhile, the chief propagandist for “supply-side” economics years ago, David Stockman, has disowned the whole idea as something that obviously doesn’t work. Mr. Norquist’s sour grapes notwithstanding, he doesn’t have a theoretical or political leg to stand on, nor does Mr. Boehner. With any luck at all, Norquist will quickly fade into the historical woodwork, never to emerge again, at least not with any influence.

  7. Submitted by Doug Duwenhoegger on 11/13/2012 - 07:22 pm.

    Fading in to extinction?

    Let’s hope it fades to the point where we can drown the remaining pledges in a bath tub.

  8. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 11/13/2012 - 10:22 pm.

    And what…

    Exactly is Grover Norquist’s mandate?

    • Submitted by Harris Goldstein on 11/14/2012 - 08:56 am.

      The House

      Norquist went on to say that the fact that the Republicans held on to a House majority demonstrates the view of the electorate.

      Never mind that Republicans lost a few House seats. Never mind that House districts are heavily gerrymandered. Never mind that Republicans lost a couple Senate seats (despite having to defend fewer seats). And, most of all, never mind that Republicans lost the only national referendum we had on tax policy.

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