Grover's World

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

Grover Norquist

Washington is full of advocates and lobbyists, working in organizations both large and small. The ones that we think of as the most powerful, like the AARP or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are huge operations with armies of people swarming Capitol Hill and deluging reporters with press releases. Then there's Grover Norquist. One guy (actually a guy with an organization, Americans for Tax Reform), with one issue who has done such a spectacular job of bending Washington to his will that he has become a national figure. In the upcoming Congress, there will be 234 Republicans, 219 of whom have signed The Pledge, the promise never to raise taxes. In the Senate, there will be 45 Republicans, 39 of whom have signed. The Pledge (you can see it here; it's all of 60 words) commits its signatories not only to "oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses," but also to "oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates." While a few Republicans have come out in the last few weeks to say they will consider reneging on The Pledge as part of a deal to avoid the upcoming Austerity Trap, this debate is still constrained to an extraordinary degree by Norquist and the rules he has set.

Of course, it's not as though by getting Republicans to oppose tax increases Norquist is forcing them to do something they're not inclined to do already. But The Pledge is a brilliantly conceived tool. It takes Republicans' existing opposition to tax increases and reifies it into something that shapes both policy-making and campaigns. It does so by imposing a practical cost on anyone who doesn't toe the line. Refuse to sign it in the first place, and your credentials as a tax-cutter will be called into question by your Republican primary opponents. So almost all of them sign. And then once they sign, if they don't stick to it, they can be branded as liars and traitors to the cause.

The Pledge's genius isn't the only thing that makes Norquist so effective. ATR is well-funded, yet extremely focused. In 2010—the last year for which their tax forms are available—the group raised $12.4 million, which makes them mid-sized for an organization of this type. Yet they have a small staff, because they don't need a large one. They aren't performing complicated research or trying to run grassroots campaigns. They do one simple thing: force Republican members of Congress to sign, and then hold to, The Pledge. That's really it. They have a couple of other little projects (like the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project, which aims to put Saint Ronnie's name on a bridge or building in every county in America), but basically all they do is talk about how taxes are evil.

Perhaps most critically, they're in it for the long haul. Their funding isn't going to dry up, because there will always be rich people and corporations eager to keep taxes low. And from the beginning, Norquist understood this battle as one that is never actually won or lost. It just goes on forever, and that's perfectly fine with him. And even though there will probably be an increase in taxes at the end of this year, as Ezra Klein argues, Norquist has already won. Despite the fact that Democrats just won a huge victory at the polls, in the upcoming deal everyone is acknowledging that there will be dramatic spending cuts, but even the most modest increase in taxes is being portrayed as an enormous concession by Republicans, one that should naturally be met with something like a revision to the country's most cherished social programs.

There are advocacy groups that have specific policy goals, and advocacy groups whose goal is often stated as "changing the debate." For the latter, it can often be difficult to see (and justify to funders) just what practical impact a changed debate has. But in Norquist's case, it couldn't be clearer. He'll naturally decry whatever small increase in upper-income taxes we see once the Austerity Trap is all sorted out. But the GOP is still his party.

Comments

This whole thing with Norquist is a little window into the Republican mind. Imagine trying to get a bunch of Democrats to do lock-step like this on one issue. You can call Dems socialists all day long, but Fascism takes a Republican.

This thing with Norquist is a big window into the Democrat mind. Imagine trying to get a bunch of Republicans (like Democrats did on health care, tax increases, immigration, abortion) on one issue. You can call Republicans Fascists all day long, but Facsists like to control your lives (like what healthcare you can have, where you can smoke, what you can eat, what you must tolerate, when you can put up a Nativity scene, what lifestyles you have to call normal, how much money you can keep). And the dictatorial concepts with the foundation of 'the State is your Father, everything comes from the State' (National Socialism) has a lot- quite a lot - in common with the Dems philosophy on how citizens should act.

I laugh whenever a liberal shoots off their mouth. The issue is not Republicans or Democrats - it is conservatism and liberalism. Todays Liberalism enslaves and controls a person, acting like a drug dealer to a mentality of 'I deserve, give me' addict to social programs to more than half of the country - the half that really don't pay income taxes, receiving EIC, food stamps, etc in excess of whatever they initially get taken out of their paychecks. Unfortunately, todays Republicans won't push going back to a pure Constitution that limits Federal Governement (and by extension, Federal spending) since most are liberal Republicans, making money and drawing power using the same rules alongside Democrats.

Norquist has the right idea, but doesn't have the leverage to force a change, relying on voluntary compliance or embarrassment. Really, thats Congress's job and they've failed since WW2.

Want to fix deficit spending? Mandate spending no more than last years tax collections, allow no Bond sales. Want to pay off out debt? The next 20 years have a mandadory 2.5% spending cut accross the board every year. Dump every social spending, earmark, or whatever that isn't alowed under a pure read of the Consitution. Things will balance out.

Dems gonna lead on this? Not. Repubs? Nope, they'll run out the clocks while they live and benefit their own interests. Mocking or belittling Norquist or a blanket snarky statement on Republicans is dumb. Especially when the Dem philosophy has been such a threat to our personal and collective freedoms, and a damaging failure in governance.

mawendt:
Can you do anything besides spouting Faux Noise talking points. While I commend you for seeing through your GOP brethern, you totally misunderstand Democrats. They aren't the same as the Democratic politicians in Washington, D.C.

Awesome, Phil. No content in your response, just an 'attack the messenger' and seeing what you want to see in my post.

I had to read it several times before I figured out what you meant by 'Faux Noise'. Heh. Don't watch Fox - but I do have an independant, well trained, logical mind. Rather than create something new, I'll stress the main point:

"Want to fix deficit spending? Mandate spending no more than last years tax collections, allow no Bond sales. Want to pay off out debt? The next 20 years have a mandadory 2.5% spending cut accross the board every year. Dump every social spending, earmark, or whatever that isn't alowed under a pure read of the Consitution. Things will balance out."

This is NOT the liberal ideology. This is a conservative ideology. The political make up (Dems:99% Lib; Reps:50% Lib) has driven us into fiscal failure.

Look - I don't care about whetehr your social position is pro/anti homosexual, pro/anti abortion, pro/anti school voucher, et social cetra. Money policy needs to be separated from social policy. Improved management of the mandatory spending and elimination of the descretionary spending is the common sense manner to eliminated the deficit within a very short time, probably less than 10 years. Tax increases won't resolve the deficit, reducing spending will.

More simply, if government wanted to fix the issue, it would enact a policy of no bond sales, and spend 5% less than last cycles tax collection and put it into a bond payment fund untouchable by any future act of congress, and have a mandated 2.5% cut every year across the board for every program except social security and medicare/medicaid. Add a flat 10% no deduction tax to everyone "in order to form a more perfect union" to pay for the neccessities.

Four years to solvency, ten years to surplus, 20 years to powerhouse economy.

Problem is these guys in government (no smarter or luckier than most of us here, yet able to pull down large paychecks for annual failure, and leave office with the most incredible retirement packages as well as increasing their personal wealth into the millions in a few short years) have no incentive to fix the issue. They and their families become wealthy and powerful at the expense of the little people. You know - the same little people liberals are always crying about but never seem to be able to truly help.

While I commend you for throwing down a few words on the topic, you really didn't contribute. And I don't misunderstand Democrats. Moreso, I certainly understand the liberal ideology and the damage it does.

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