“Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back”: Today’s GOP Is Not A Small-Government Party, It’s An Anti-Tax Party
When it comes to striking a bipartisan fiscal deal, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) argued yesterday that the only compromise he’ll consider is one in which Republicans accept no concessions whatsoever. Around the same time, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said the same thing.
Given this, it’s fair to say the prospects for a so-called “Grand Bargain” are finished, right? Almost, but not quite.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Sunday that he believes Republicans would consider adding new tax revenues by closing loopholes if Democrats show a willingness to embrace “true” entitlement reform.
“I think Republicans, if they saw true entitlement reform, would be glad to look at tax reform that generates additional revenues,” Corker said on “Fox News Sunday.” “And that doesn’t mean increasing rates, that means closing loopholes. It also means arranging our tax system so that we have economic growth.”
Corker is clearly part of a very small minority in his party, but it’s worth noting he’s not completely alone — Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) made similar remarks shortly before the sequestration deadline about Republicans trading tax-reform revenue for unspecified entitlement “reforms.”
It’s admittedly difficult to read the available tea leaves — for every report that says Republicans will simply never even consider a compromise, there’s another that says the window is not yet closed and a deal is still possible.
But if we’re keeping score, put me down in the “deeply skeptical” category. Putting aside the merits of a “Grand Bargain” — I’m skeptical about the need for such a deal, too — I just don’t see a scenario in which enough congressional Republicans accept concessions to pass an agreement.
In fairness, the optimists have a compelling talking point: Republicans want changes to social-insurance programs like Medicare and Social Security; President Obama is tempting them by putting the “reforms” on the table; and GOP leaders know the only way Democrats would even consider these cuts is if Republicans make concessions on new revenue.
So why is failure probably inevitable anyway? In large part because when weighing the Republican support for entitlement cuts against the Republican opposition to new tax revenue, it’s no contest — today’s GOP is not a small-government party; it’s an anti-tax party. On the list of Republican priorities, there’s a #1 issue, followed by a steep drop-off to every other consideration.
For proof, look no further than Boehner’s and McCarthy’s comments yesterday. Yes, Corker sounded a more constructive note, but I strongly suspect he’s part of an intra-party minority that would be quickly crushed if a deal started to materialize.
But isn’t Obama making them a generous offer intended to garner GOP support? Yes, but let’s also not forget two things. First, the president has already put very conservative measures on the table, but they’re far short of what Republicans generally consider acceptable (the elimination and privatization of entitlement programs). Second, as we’ve seen before, the m.o. for Republicans is to simply pocket Obama’s offers while demanding more, constantly moving the goal posts to new extremes, before the president eventually gives up and the media blames “both sides.”
Indeed, look again at Corker’s specific use of words: he’ll consider revenue if Democrats accept “true” reforms. Who gets to decide what’s “true”? Apparently, Corker and his party do, and chances are, their definition won’t line up well with the Democrats’ definition.
I realize that on a conceptual level, this seems like the sort of agreement that could be reached in an afternoon. Both sides are looking for similar amounts of debt reduction, and have already made significant progress towards their goal. Democrats are open to spending cuts and entitlement changes, and if Republicans met them half-way on tax-reform revenue, they could shake hands and move on to some other issue.
But if I were a betting man, I’d say the smart money is on “never going to happen.” All of the GOP leadership and most of their rank-and-file members not only refuse to consider a compromise, but consider the very idea of meeting the White House half-way to be ridiculous.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, Marh 18, 2013
At times, it has seemed that Republican lawmakers eyeing a fiscal compromise with President Obama were moving closer to a public split with Grover Norquist, author of the famous no-new-taxes pledge that has defined conservative politics for decades.
Yet Norquist, whose influence in the conservative movement spans well beyond his well-known fixation on taxes, remains an unwavering force in the GOP debate — and even some of the most prominent lawmakers publicly flirting with a break from Norquist have assured him in private that they remain loyal soldiers in the anti-tax cause.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), for example, might have seemed a perfect illustration of the trend away from Norquist’s hard-line views when he said recently that policies backed by Norquist would lead to more debt.
“I care too much about my country — I care a lot more about it than I do Grover Norquist,” the senator told a Georgia TV station.
But five days later, on the phone with Norquist, Chambliss was sounding a conciliatory tone. As Norquist read aloud a transcript of Chambliss’s earlier remarks, item by item, Norquist recalled later, the senator repeatedly assured him on each one that he did not mean to imply they had major differences when it came to GOP principles on taxes.
“He said he’d wished he hadn’t invoked my name and wished that he’d been clearer,” Norquist recalled from the Monday conversation.
Norquist said he came away from the conversation with this understanding of Chambliss’s position: “If he’d get a jillion dollars of spending cuts, he’d be willing to get rid of a deduction or two.”
Chambliss’s office said he was unavailable for an interview. A Chambliss aide later said that the purpose of the call was “most definitely not an apology.” In a written statement to The Washington Post, the senator said he and Norquist agree on “the vast majority of fiscal policy,” including that tax rates should not rise and spending should be reined in, though he added: “Grover disagrees with my longstanding position of using some revenue from closing special-interest loopholes to pay down our national debt, which is something I’ve never apologized for.”
For two decades, Norquist, 56, has been the most ardent enforcer of the Republican Party’s anti-tax theology. And Republicans have dutifully hewed close to that dogma.
But humbled by last month’s election results, and facing a determined President Obama in deficit-reduction negotiations with tax rates set to rise Jan. 1 for all Americans as part of the “fiscal cliff,” several Republicans in recent days have expressed a willingness to compromise. Some have suggested striking a deal with Obama to raise tax rates on higher-earning Americans, as the president has pushed for, or rolling back tax credits and closing loopholes as a way to increase revenue — stances that could well violate the Norquist pledge.
The debate over the fiscal cliff presents a test for Norquist, whose influence is likely to rise or fall depending on how the fight plays out in the coming weeks — and what punishment, if any, Norquist can exact on GOP lawmakers he views as transgressors.
“There are going to be some people who took that pledge that vote for tax increases, and the way he handles that will either preserve his influence or diminish it,” said Charlie Black, a veteran Republican lobbyist and strategist. Still, for now, Black acknowledged, “he is as influential as ever.”
More evidence of Norquist’s enduring influence in the GOP came last week in the way conservatives closed ranks around him during an unusually packed session of the regular meeting of activists and GOP officials Norquist hosts every Wednesday at his Americans for Tax Reform offices near Metro Center.
One after the other, participants rose to congratulate Norquist for his multiple television and radio appearances defending the tax pledge, and to assure the crowd that Republican activists and lawmakers would stand firm against Obama’s call to raise taxes. Attendees included emissaries from House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
“The fact they’re attacking Grover really shows the impact of what he’s doing,” Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), incoming chairman of the conservative caucus in the House known as the Republican Study Committee, said as the room burst into applause and cheers. Scalise then declared himself “proud to be a pledge signer.”
Norquist says he will not hesitate to support 2014 primary challenges against Republicans who violate the pledge. His group spent $15.7 million in the 2012 election, mostly against Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The threat of a primary fight is unnerving for many Republicans, and it helps explain why even some of Norquist’s apparent critics in the GOP — such as Chambliss, who is up for reelection in 2014 — want to smooth over any apparent tensions.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) told ABC last week that Norquist was wrong to oppose finding new revenue by capping deductions and that “I will violate the pledge, long story short, for the good of the country, only if Democrats will do entitlement reform.”
The remarks did not faze Norquist. In an earlier private telephone chat, Norquist said, Graham had assured him that he would compromise on taxes only if Democrats agreed to entitlement changes “on a massive scale” — prompting Norquist to tell Graham that he would “never be tempted” to raise taxes because the left would never make such a concession.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who caused a stir when he urged House Republicans to consider letting taxes rise on the highest-earning Americans to preserve lower rates for others, later told CNN that “I admire Grover Norquist, I think he’s doing a lot of good,” and that he was “honored” to have signed the tax pledge. Cole said he did not think his idea violated the pledge.
Norquist said he also has had private conversations with Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who said Sunday on “Meet the Press” that he was “not obligated to any pledge other than my oath.” Norquist, appearing on the same program, said Corker had been “seduced into thinking, well, maybe I’ll have a small, tiny tax increase and have real reform and we’ll move forward.”
Norquist’s influence extends beyond the famous anti-tax declaration. In addition to heading Americans for Tax Reform, which he launched at the behest of President Ronald Reagan to lobby for White House priorities during the 1986 tax debate, Norquist is closely aligned with some of the GOP’s most well-heeled and politically active groups.
He sits on the board of the National Rifle Association, for instance.
Americans for Tax Reform does not disclose its donors, but The Post reported in April that Crossroads GPS, the political organization co-founded by Karl Rove, gave Norquist’s group $4 million in 2010.
Norquist also has built clout among key activists and politicians in Washington and around the country through his regular Wednesday meetings. His focus on fiscal policy, a unifying issue across all facets of conservatism, has helped Norquist take on the additional role of a sort of orchestra conductor for the political right.
The meetings, begun in 1993 with a small group rallying opposition to President Bill Clinton’s health-care plan, now bring together fiscal hawks, social conservatives, tea party followers, home-schoolers, gun enthusiasts, opponents of same-sex marriage — even Republican gays and abortion rights backers — for invitation-only strategy sessions. Top GOP officials or their staff members attend each meeting, as do key conservative group leaders. During the George W. Bush presidency, the White House regularly dispatched senior aides to attend.
“I’ve never seen anyone who understands coalitions more fully,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which raises money to elect women who oppose abortion rights, and a regular Wednesday attendee. “I’m in there with pro-choice Republicans.”
The off-the-record meetings have been replicated in 48 states. Norquist and his staff help coordinate those gatherings, giving him frequent and direct access to governors, state legislators and key activists on the ground far outside the Beltway — and in the back yards of GOP lawmakers considering a break from the tax pledge.
In 2009, Americans for Tax Reform moved locations, and Norquist custom-designed a meeting space with stadium seating and a giant glass wall to allow for sidebar conversations among participants who come to network as much as to listen to presenters.
At the 11 / 2-hour meeting, an intern counts participants every 15 minutes so Norquist can monitor the level of attendance throughout each session. Last week, with Norquist at the center of the fiscal-cliff debate, there were as many as 205 attendees.
Norquist used characteristically colorful language to warn Republicans that should they agree to raise taxes on wealthy people, pressure will mount for them to give even more ground. “The reason you don’t want your fingerprints on the murder weapon,” he said, “is that someone will ask you to use it again.”
Heads nodded in approval.
By: Peter Wallsten, The Washington Post, December 2, 2012
“Unicorn’s And Other Fables”: Grover Norquist’s Latest Plot To Drown Government…Monthly Debt Ceiling Fights
There’s two ways to look at Grover Norquist. He’s either the most powerful unelected man in the world or an amazing self-promoter who is about to be proven obsolete. Norquist obviously feels he’s the former. For nearly two decades, he’s held Republicans to a pledge to never raise taxes. Now he wants them to force the president to cede to their wishes on a monthly basis.
The President of Americans for Tax Reform is urging Republicans to use the debt ceiling to exact spending cuts or continue the Bush tax cuts for incomes over $250,000.
“The debt ceiling that Obama’s plans bump into every month or so for the next four years provides plenty of ‘leverage’ for the GOP to trade for spending cuts — as done in 2011 — or continuing the lower rates,” Norquist wrote Wednesday in The Hill.
Nearly 6 out of 10 Americans want to end the Bush tax breaks for the rich. But enough Republicans in the House and Senate have signed Norquist’s American Taxpayer Pledge that he’s certain that the negotiations on the so-called “fiscal cliff” can end without taxes going up.
After an electoral college landslide, many — including the White House — believe that the president has the leverage in negotiations. But the debt ceiling, which we will hit in February, does give Republicans a chance to make demands on the president.
When President Obama asked Speaker Boehner to raise the debt limit, Boehner reportedly said, “There is a price for everything.”
In 2011, Republicans, for the first time ever, used the debt limit to force cuts — something they never asked for in the dozens of times they raised the limit for the last three Republican presidents.
Though senators Lindsey Graham, Saxby Chambliss and other Republicans have said they would break their pledge with Norquist, the lobbyist seems unfazed. He told Slate’s Dave Weigel that he has no concerns that his pledge is about to crumble.
“I’ve talked to Lindsey Graham on the phone after some of his pronouncements, and he’s said, ‘Oh, I would need 10-1 [ratio of cuts to tax hikes], and it would have to include permanent, unalterable entitlement reform.’ I said, ‘Lindsey, if that’s what it’s going to take to get you to raise taxes, I’m not going to worry about you,” Norquist said. “You are not in danger of being offered a silver unicorn, because unicorns don’t exist.”
The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent keeps insisting that the GOP is just trying to present an appearance of compromise. Some Republicans are making news with their alleged willingness to buck Norquist — but votes speak louder than words.
Unlike many Republicans, Norquist would be pleased if the so-called sequester goes into effect. He’s a Republican who believes the Department of Defense isn’t sacred when it comes to spending cuts.
The question is, how many Republicans would be willing to risk the cuts to Defense along with responsiblty for a middle-class tax increase by holding out for a deal that honors Norquist’s pledge?
And if the president won’t agree, will they doom the United States’ credit and cause unprecedented “uncertainty,” which Republicans claim to hate, by holding the debt limit hostage on a monthly basis?
Even if Republicans were to go down that path, the president would have to adopt a strategy advocated by former president Bill Clinton often called “the 14th Amendment option.”
The amendment includes the sentence, “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payments of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion shall not be questioned.”
In 2011, Clinton said that “without hesitation” he would invoke the 14th Amendment “and force the courts to stop me.”
President Obama nixed that plan, saying his lawyers didn’t see the validity in it. But if Republicans decided to use the debt ceiling to keep him on an “allowance,” it wouldn’t be hard to imagine him deciding that it was worth going to court.
Norquist has never been shy about his disdain for government. He’s often joked,” I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” But he’s never faced a predicament like expiring tax cuts and a president with the political capital to fight to keep some of them expired.
Soon we’ll find out how much power he actually has.
BY: Jason Sattler, The National Memo. November 28, 2012
“Putting The Nails In The Coffin”: Has Grover Norquist And His Anti-Tax Pledge Reached The End Of The Road?
Yet another prominent Republican has added his name to the list of those for whom the allure of the Grover Norquist “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” has lost its luster.
Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) has announced that he will no longer honor his commitment to the Norquist pledge wherein he promised not to raise taxes under any circumstances whatsoever. Appearing on a local Georgia television program, Chambliss said, “I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge. If we do it his way then we’ll continue in debt, and I just have a disagreement with him about that.”
While Chambliss expects Norquist to push back on his defection by supporting a primary challenge to Senator Chambliss when he stands for re-election in 2014, Chambliss has decided to take his chances, noting, “But I don’t worry about that because I care too much about my country. I care a lot more about it than I do Grover Norquist.”
While Saxby Chambliss’ sentiment is admirable, is it possible that he has done the math and concluded that the Norquist modus operandi of going after any Republican that dare defy him just doesn’t pack the punch it once possessed?
Judging from the 2012 election results, there is reason to believe that Grover Norquist’s days of bullying candidates into doing his bidding may be a thing of the past.
Going into the elections, 279 Congressional incumbents—along with 286 challengers—had signed the anti-tax pledge. However, at a time when the polls point to an overwhelming number of Americans favoring a rise in the tax rates for the nation’s very wealthiest, some 57 Republican House incumbents or challengers who signed the pledge went down to defeat while 24 GOP sitting Senators or those seeking a seat lost in their race.
Included among the high profile, pledge-signing losers were Senator Scott Brown (R-MA), former Wisconsin Governor and cabinet member Tommy Thompson (R-WI) and two-time loser Linda McMahon (R-CT). Over in the House, long time Congressmen Dan Lungren got beat after a constituent publically challenged him for signing the pledge while two GOP incumbents who had received direct funding from Norquist’s organization, Americans For Tax Reform, in an effort to save their seats, were unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, GOP Senate leaders such as Bob Corker (R-TN), John McCain (R-AZ) and Tom Coburn (R-OK), have become more vocal in their opposition to Grover Norquist and his tactics as has leading conservative voice, Bill Kristol.
Adding what might be the final nail in the coffin for Mr. Norquist’s brand of political blackmail is the fact that the likely GOP frontrunner for the party’s presidential nomination in 2016, Gov. Jeb Bush—while highly supportive of keeping taxes low—has steadfastly refused to sign the tax pledge saying, “I don’t believe you outsource your convictions and principles to people.” The younger Bush follows in the footsteps of his father, President George H.W. Bush, who earlier this year made his own feelings completely clear when he remarked, “The rigidity of those pledges is something I don’t like. The circumstances change and you can’t be wedded to some formula by Grover Norquist. It’s – who the hell is Grover Norquist, anyway?”
Good question—who the hell is Grover Norquist, anyway?
While he has managed to become more famous than most, at the end of the day, Grover Norquist is a lobbyist.
In fact, according to Jack Abramoff—the disgraced lobbyist who went to jail after entering a guilty plea to three criminal felonies involving defrauding American Indian tribes and corrupting public officials—Mr. Norquist’s organization served as a conduit for funds that flowed from Abramoff’s clients to surreptitiously finance grass-roots lobbying campaigns.
The Washington Post reports,
“The federal probe has brought a string of bribery-related charges and plea deals. The possible misuse of tax-exempt groups is also receiving investigators’ attention, sources familiar with the matter said. Among the organizations used by Abramoff was Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform. According to an investigative report on Abramoff’s lobbying released last week by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Americans for Tax Reform served as a “conduit” for funds that flowed from Abramoff’s clients to surreptitiously finance grass-roots lobbying campaigns. As the money passed through, Norquist’s organization kept a small cut, e-mails show. A second group Norquist was involved with, the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, received about $500,000 in Abramoff client funds…”
Mr. Norquist has denied any wrongdoing in the Abramoff matter and neither he nor his organization(s) have ever been charged for any offense related to the same.
With Saxby Chambliss’s new found independence and willingness to once again exercise his own judgment and regain control of his own vote when it comes to tax matters, expect other legislators—on both the federal and state level—to now join in.
The Norquist era has come and gone—and thank Heaven for that.
Whether you support tax increases for some or detest the very notion of anything short of a decrease in taxes, we elect leaders to think for themselves and to serve the needs of their constituents. Unless you are an elected official from a district that Grover Norquist calls home, Mr. Norquist, and his Americans For Tax Reform, are not a constituency—they are a special interest lobby.
The time has come for a little GOP courage. While Mr. Norquist may have been able to impose his will on Republican incumbents who fear a primary challenge from the right courtesy of Grover Norquist, the reality is that there are only so many such challenges Mr. Norquist can afford to mount. Therefore, the more GOP elected officials who reject the notion of handing over their vote to the likes of Grover Norquist, the lower the odds that these politicians will pay the price for their defection come election season.
The clock on Grover Norquist’s fifteen minutes of fame has expired—and the sooner Republican incumbents and candidates figure this out, the sooner they will be able to impress the voters with their willingness to think for themselves and for their constituencies rather than turning control over to a lobbyist.
How can that possibly be a bad thing?
By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, November 23, 2012
Jon Huntsman, a former Republican Party candidate for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, Sunday evening in an interview said that the GOP is like the Communist Party in China. Huntsman, who was President Obama’s Ambassador to China, certainly is in a position to know. A former Republican Governor of Utah who worked in both the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations, Jon Huntsman last night also distanced himself from Mitt Romney, and attacked the Republican Party’s anti-science and anti-tax positions.
Buzzfeed reports that “the Republican Party disinvited him from a Florida fundraiser in March after he publicly called for a third party.
“This is what they do in China on party matters if you talk off script,” he said.
Huntsman said he regrets his decision to oppose a 10-to-1 spending cuts to tax increase deal to cut the deficit at the Iowa debate lamenting: “if you can only do certain things over again in life.”
“What went through my head was if I veer at all from my pledge not to raise any taxes…then I’m going to have to do a lot of explaining,” he explained. “What was going through my mind was ‘don’t I just want to get through this?’”
That decision, Huntsman said, “has caused me a lot of heartburn.”
Huntsman jokingly blamed his failed candidacy in part on his wife, Mary Kaye, who told him she’d leave him if he abandoned his principles.
“She said if you pandered, if you sign any of those damn pledges, I’ll leave you,” Huntsman recounted.
“So I had to say I believe in science — and people on stage look at you quizzically as though you’re was an oddball,” Huntsman said, explaining why he was “toast” in Iowa.
Asked by journalist Jeff Greenfield if he could win the nomination of the Republican Party in Utah today, Huntsman said he could not, saying later that Ronald Reagan would “likely not” be able to win the GOP nomination nationally in this political climate.
On foreign policy, Huntsman questioned his former Republican opponents’ hard-line positions on China. “I don’t know what world these people are living in,” he said, not naming Mitt Romney by name.
Huntsman, a Mormon, was one of only two GOP presidential candidates who are open to supporting some LGBT civil rights. Fred Karger, a gay Republican candidate for the nomination, supports same-sex marriage. Huntsman only supports civil unions for same-sex couples. He was viewed as a sane Republican, which forced him out of the race early.
By: David Badash, The New Civil Rights Movement, April 23, 2012