It appears there’s a reason Democrats have held up Grover Norquist and his “taxpayer protection pledge” as the obstacle to all that is good and fiscally responsible in Washington. That reason? They didn’t want Republicans to call their bluff, and show there isn’t a “party of no” approach to taxes holding up a deal.
First, a bit of background about Norquist, who leads a conservative advocacy group called Americans for Tax Reform. He and ATR are famous for enforcing a pledge not to raise taxes, one signed by many Republicans with eyes for state or federal office, including dozens in Georgia.
As President Barack Obama and members of Congress have debated how to solve the budget crisis, Norquist’s name has been invoked repeatedly. Not so much by Republicans trying to explain why they can’t raise taxes, but rather by Democrats who claim the GOP won’t risk stoking Norquist’s ire.
That notion hasn’t played out at the state level, at least not in Georgia. Seventy state legislators had signed the pledge as of February 2009: All but three voted for the fiscal 2010 budget, which eliminated tax relief grants for homeowners, and 48 of them voted for the hospital bed tax last year. The percentages were actually a bit worse among those who were still pledge signatories as of last month. Yet, just one of the 70 lost in a GOP primary.
At the federal level, Democrats who decry the pledge might do as much as anyone, Norquist included, to inflate its importance. That’s a mighty curious and counterproductive thing to do, if they truly are serious about working with Republicans to close the deficit.
One day, however, Norquist’s spell — or the appearance thereof — was bound to be broken. That day came last week, when GOP members of the congressional “supercommittee,” formed as part of the debt-ceiling deal and tasked with cutting deficits by $1.2 trillion during the next decade, said they offered $500 billion in revenue increases.
Half of those increases would come from capping deductions for individual taxpayers. Republicans — and Norquist — have long insisted on offsetting such increases with lower tax rates. Generally speaking, I favor that approach, too, though I recognize that some deductions are so narrowly tailored that they could be considered subsidies buried in the tax code.
But the GOP offer included only a partial offset, putting $250 billion toward deficit reduction. (Most of the rest of the $500 billion would come from asset sales.)
Since that first report, other figures have been bandied about regarding exactly how big a tax hike is being discussed. But two things have been clear all along: First, the GOP was indeed talking about a tax hike, despite the specter of Norquist. Second, it was a more Democrat-friendly offer, in the ratio of tax hikes to spending cuts, than Obama received, and ignored, from his own bipartisan debt commission.
All in all, it was an offer that stood to tick off Republicans’ Taxed Enough Already base — even though it was also an offer made public by freshman Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, past president of the fiscally conservative Club for Growth, and previewed favorably in the Wall Street Journal by Stephen Moore, Toomey’s predecessor at the Club for Growth.
Yet, it was an offer supercommittee Democrats rejected out of hand.
For months, we’ve heard Democrats describe their supposed willingness to make cuts — reductions in future spending growth, really — to the budget-busting trio of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
All they needed, they said, were Republicans willing to meet them part of the way with tax hikes. Never mind that Speaker John Boehner agreed to hundreds of billions of dollars in tax hikes during this summer’s debt-ceiling talks, only for Obama to up the ante and ask for more.
Well, those Republicans showed up. And Democrats threatened to walk away.
Add in the gimmickry the supercommittee Democrats are trying to pass off as spending cuts, such as savings from a war in Iraq that is ending anyway, and we see the reason an anti-tax pledge caught on in the first place:
The tax hikes are always more real than the cuts.
– By Kyle Wingfield