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The Growing Revolt Against Grover Norquist

Two weeks ago I penned a short piece titled “Grover Norquist Collateral Casualty of 2012?” where I broached the question of whether or not Norquist would become a casualty as a result of the coming fiscal cliff negotiations and where I said, “…look for Grover Norquist to politically take a major hit in the resolution of the fiscal cliff crisis.” The way things are playing out I think that we can pretty much assume that Norquist is already taking on water and his support and influence seems to be fading with each passing day. Let’s review a few recent developments, staring with this:”Grover Norquist: Washington Enemy No. 1 :The man who enforces the no-new-taxes pledge is under fire like never before. Why he still expects Republicans will hold the line”; To wit: “Republicans are facing an avalanche of pressure from the White House, the media and even many on Wall Street to abandon their antitax principles to avoid a “fiscal cliff…The pressure on Republicans to repudiate this oath has never been as intense as it is now. Mr. Obama is claiming a voter mandate to raise taxes, while the media and liberals are declaring that the days of “Norquistism,” as they derisively call it, are over. A New York Times story this week claimed that more Republicans are ready to violate the pledge. After the 2011 debt-ceiling debacle, the election losses and the prospect of getting blamed for going over the fiscal cliff, the conventional wisdom is that the GOP has no choice but to fold…I remind Mr. Norquist that the election exit polls show that voters, for the first time in two decades, favor higher taxes on the rich.”

In the Senate, several prominent Republicans have already broken ranks with Norquist publicly, Lindsey Graham (R-SC): “When you’re $16 trillion in debt, the only pledge we should be making to each other is to avoid becoming Greece, and Republicans — Republicans should put revenue on the table…We’re this far in debt. We don’t generate enough revenue. Capping deductions will help generate revenue. Raising tax rates will hurt job creation…So I agree with Grover, we shouldn’t raise rates. But, I think Grover is wrong when it comes to [saying] we can’t cap deductions and buy down debt…I want to buy down debt and cut rates to create jobs, but I will violate the pledge, long story short, for the good of the country, only if Democrats will do entitlement reform.” Tom Coburn (R-OK): “I’m all for the very wealthy paying more taxes…Senate Republicans — and many House Republicans — have repeatedly rejected Mr. Norquist’s strict interpretation of his own pledge, a reading that requires them to defend every loophole and spending program hidden in the tax code…As a result, rather than forcing Republicans to bow to him, Mr. Norquist is the one who is increasingly isolated politically.” John McCain (R-AZ) said Sunday, “that he would support limiting deductions.” Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) who said last week that “the pledge is outdated and unhelpful for reducing the national debt…I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge.” Bob Corker (R-TN): “I’m not obligated on the pledge…I made Tennesseans aware, I was just elected, the only thing I’m honoring is the oath I take when I serve, when I’m sworn in this January.” The senior Republican Senator from Tennessee, Lamar Alexander said that the only oath he’s taken is his oath of office.” Regarding taxes Alexander said’ “I think Republicans have done plenty of talking about revenues on the table…We’re ready. It’s time for the president to step up.”

Of even greater significance is the fact that the defections have now moved beyond the Senate, where Republicans are in the minority, to the Republican controlled House of Representatives. Even fiscal hawk Eric Cantor (R-VA) has publicly distanced himself from Norquist, “When I go to the constituents that have reelected me, it is not about that pledge…It really is about trying to solve problems.” While Cantor, like Graham isn’t a fan of raising the tax rates he is unequivocally in favor of increasing revenues and he doesn’t necessarily tie that to matching adjustments in deductions as required by the Norquist pledge. Peter King (R-NY) said, “everything should be on the table in negotiations to avert the “fiscal cliff.” Jeff Flake (R-AZ): “The only pledge I’d sign is a pledge to sign no more pledges…We’ve got to ensure that we go back and represent our constituents in a way — I believe in limited government, economic freedom, individual responsibility. I don’t want higher taxes. But no more pledges.” Quoting the political magazine “The Hill” on the comments of Congressman Tom Cole (R-OK): “Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a respected party strategist and former chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee, became the most prominent House Republican to suggest that the GOP do what has long been unthinkable within the party: lock in the George W. Bush-era tax rates for annual incomes up to $250,000 without simultaneously extending them for top earners.” Diane White (R-TN): “I answer to my constituents, not to a pledge.”

While House Republicans are generally far less brazen in their challenges to Norquist then are their Senate counterparts, the politics of their equivocation should not go unnoticed. Political reporter Aaron Blake of the Washington Post observed: “Whether Republicans vote for tax increases or closing loopholes, if those changes aren’t offset by other tax cuts, the package will be in violation of Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform pledge.” Just last week 100 members of Congress sent a leader to the House leadership imploring that everything be on the negotiating table, 40 of them were Republicans. While every sitting Republican lawmaker knows that compromising on revenues may engender a Tea Party backed primary challenge, they and the remaining hard core right-wing stalwarts in the House also know that their ranks have been thinned in the last election. Moreover, at the level of higher profile electoral contests, where ideas and ideology receive a more detailed examination, the ideas of the far right have been soundly defeated. This same claque of conservative ideologues is also aware of the fact that the American people are fed up with political gridlock generally and Tea Party fueled obstruction on Capitol Hill in particular and that the electorate wants compromise. Moreover, they are fully aware of the fact, as per exit poling, that 60% of the voters favor an upward adjustment on tax rates for the rich. To say that the climate that sustained far right obstructionism in the post-2010 political environment has been significantly altered is merely restating the obvious.

Commenting on how all this is playing out Andrea Mitchell, on her midday MSNBC show, likened Grover Norquist to “Frosty the Snowman”, a figure who seemed to be melting away with each new development and implied compromise coming out of the fiscal cliff debate. So what, at the bottom line, does all of this mean for the future of Grover Norquist as a viable political player. Mike Allen of Politico, appearing on Mitchell’s show revealed that, “Listen to top Democrats and Republicans talk on camera, and it sounds like they could not be further apart on a year-end tax-and-spending deal — a down payment on a $4 trillion grand bargain. But behind the scenes, top officials who have been involved in the talks for many months say the contours of a deal — including the size of tax hikes and spending cuts it will most likely contain — are starting to take shape…Taxes will go up just shy of $1.2 trillion — the middle ground of what President Barack Obama wants and what Republicans say they could stomach. Entitlement programs, mainly Medicare, will be cut by no less than $400 billion — and perhaps a lot more, to get Republicans to swallow those tax hikes…There is no chance taxes are not going up for people making north of $250,000 — and virtually no chance that doesn’t include their tax rates, too. Republicans publicly say they are opposed to rate hikes — but privately they know they are going up, if not all the way to the Clinton-era 39.6 percent, then darn close. The reason is simple math…tax loopholes worth closing won’t get Obama or Republicans close to their targets.” What Mike Allen is saying in so many words is that it’s more than likely that Norquist and his pledge are about to become much less relevant politically. Allen also pointed out that Norquist has history of adjusting his positions over time to try to remain relevant. In a 2011 interview one could see Norquist spinning facts so as to maintain his reputation in a discussion on letting the Bush tax cuts expire as follows: “Not continuing a tax cut is not technically a tax increase.” Regarding the mounting defections on the part of lawmakers from his pledge Norquist is seen to be spinning the facts here too: “Norquist, for his part, says he is confident that the pledge will remain unbroken. He noted that Graham, Corker, Chambliss and King have all flirted with revenue increases in the past, as have some other Republicans, but that Republicans haven’t voted for a tax increase since the early 1990s. “Do I think everyone’s abandoning the pledge? No. I didn’t then, and I don’t now,” Norquist said in an interview Sunday. “I don’t think between now and 2014 that either the South Carolina senator [Graham] or the Georgia senator [Chambliss] will vote for a tax increase.” That Norquist is losing the support of elected Republicans is more than apparent and with that loss his influence over policy making is proportionately diminished with each stated and implied defection. That said, in an age when the Koch Brothers or a Sheldon Adelson are willing to pony up millions to promote conservative causes there’s nothing to suggest that Norquist can’t keep himself in political pin money and continue to promote his ideas. But being able to promote your ideas, no matter how public the venue, isn’t the same thing as having the political juice to make things happen. Just take Ron Paul and his libertarian “revolution” as one example of how long someone can go on peddling a given set of ideas in Washington and get nowhere in the process and you’ll see what I mean.

What may turn out to be the great irony in the demise of Grover Norquist is the fact that his unwillingness, and that of his likeminded followers, to compromise may lead to an even bigger setback for his cause then would have been obtained had he been willing to compromise two years ago. Back then Obama and Speaker Boehner were on the verge of a “Grand Bargain.” Two years ago President Obama was willing to accept three dollars in reduced spending for every one dollar in increased revenue, a plan acceptable to Speaker Boehner, that was shot down by House Republicans. Republicans may wind up with much less now as the 2012 elections have changed the dynamic in Washington and the mood beyond the Beltway is far less favorable to the anti-government crowd within the G.O.P. then it was just two years ago. Needless to say, when the dust settles and the right-wing media spin has been undone, Grover Norquist will be left standing as the chief ideological loser in the piece and he will be seen as a much diminished figure in Washington as a result.

Steven J. Gulitti


“Grover Norquist: Washington Enemy No. 1 :The man who enforces the no-new-taxes pledge is under fire like never before. Why he still expects Republicans will hold the line”;

Grover Norquist Collateral Casualty of 2012?;

Grover Norquist: Washington Enemy No. 1;

“Lindsey Graham: ‘I Will Violate The Pledge’ To Not Increase Taxes”;

“Sen. Graham ready to ‘violate’ anti-tax pledge for ‘fiscal cliff’ deal”;

Boehner shoots down proposal to agree to Obama tax demand;

“Another Republican lawmaker ditches Norquist’s anti-tax pledge”;

“Norquist slams latest tax pledge defector”;

“Bob Corker breaks with Grover Norquist pledge”;

“GOP, Dem lawmakers see room for compromise ahead of fiscal talks”;

“Eric Cantor: ‘It’s Not About’ Grover Norquist’s Pledge, It’s ‘About Trying To Solve Problems”;

“Cantor on Taxes”;

“The Anti-Norquists: 7 Key Republicans Who Have Disowned The No-Taxes Pledge”;

“Republicans divided over next moves”;

“GOP centrists split on plan to extend only middle-class tax rates”;

“Efforts to Curb Social Spending Face Resistance”;

“The GOP’s ‘Read my lips’ moment”;

“Inside the talks: Fiscal framework emerges” ;

“Why the Norquist pledge may not even apply to the ‘fiscal cliff’;

“Out from under the anti-tax pledge”;

“Will the fiscal cliff break Grover Norquist’s hold on Republicans?”;

“Why Grover Norquist and His Anti-Tax Pledge Will Survive the Fiscal Cliff”;

Caricature by DonkeyHotey licensed under Creative Commons

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I am a resident of N.Y.C., and a political independent. I hold two college degrees: SUNY Buffalo (BA) and University of Illinois (MA) as well as a Professional Certificate from NYU. I am a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve where I am still serving as a reserve commissioned Warrant Officer. I am member of the International Labor Communications Association, a member of the Iron Workers Union and a sometimes- freelance writer that has been published in some minor and professional venues.

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