mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Never Ever, Ever, Ever…”: Grover Norquist’s Pledge Used To Be Politically Expedient, Now It’s Not

A few words to ponder as we sail toward the fiscal cliff. Those words would be: “That was then, this is now.”

Strip away the false piety and legalistic hair-splitting offered by Republican lawmakers rationalizing their decision to abandon a pledge that they will never ever, ever, ever vote to raise taxes, and that’s pretty much what the explanation boils down to.

Rep. Peter King says he understood the pledge, propounded by the almighty Grover Norquist and his group Americans for Tax Reform, to obligate him for only one term. Apparently, he thought it had to be renewed, like a driver’s license.

Sen. Lindsey Graham says that if Democrats agree to entitlement reform, “I will violate the pledge … for the good of the country” — a stirring statement of patriotism and sacrifice that warms your heart like a midnight snack of jalapeño chili fries.

In other words: bull twinkies. If you want the truth of why a trickle of GOP lawmakers is suddenly willing to blaspheme the holy scripture of their faith, it’s simple. The pledge used to be politically expedient. Now it is not.

This is not, by the way, a column in defense of the Norquist pledge. The only thing dumber than his offering such a pledge was scores of politicians signing it, an opinion that has nothing to do with the wisdom or lack thereof of raising taxes and everything to do with the fact that one ought not, as a matter of simple common sense, make hard, inflexible promises on changeable matters of national import. It is all well and good to stand on whatever one’s principles are, but as a politician — a job that, by definition, requires the ability to compromise — you don’t needlessly box yourself in. Never say never.

Much less never ever, ever, ever.

So this revolution against “he who must be obeyed,” however modest, is nonetheless welcome. It suggests reason seeping like sunlight into places too long cloistered in the damp and dark of ideological rigidity.

But it leaves an observer in the oddly weightless position of applauding a thing and being, simultaneously, disgusted by it. Has politics ever seemed more ignoble than in these clumsy, self-serving attempts to justify a deviation from orthodoxy? They have to do this, of course, because the truth — “I signed the pledge because I knew it would help me get elected, but with economic ruin looming and Obama re-elected on a promise to raise taxes on the rich and most voters supporting him on that, it’s not doing me as much good as it once did” — is unpretty and unflattering.

In this awkward about-face, these lawmakers leave us wondering once again whether the vast majority of them — right and left, red and blue, Republican and Democrat — really believe in anything, beyond being re-elected.

There is a reason Congress’ approval ratings flirted with single digits this year. There is a reason a new Gallup poll finds only 10 percent of Americans ranking Congress “high or very high” in honesty and ethics.

Lawyers rank higher. Advertisers rank higher. Even journalists rank higher.

This is the sad pass to which years of congressional grandstanding, fact spinning, cookie-jar pilfering and assorted harumphing and pontificating have brought us. And while a certain cynicism toward its leaders functions as a healthy antigen in the body politic, it cannot be good for either the nation or its leaders that so many of them are held in plain contempt.

The moral malleability exemplified by the likes of King and Graham will not help. Perhaps we should ask them to sign a new pledge: “I will always tell you what I think and what I plan to do in plain English, regardless of whether you like it or it benefits me politically.”

But no lawmaker would make that pledge. And who would believe them if they did?

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., The National Memo, December 10, 2012

December 11, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Stupid Poopy Head”: Is it Game Over For Grover Norquist?

Two meetings in Washington today tell the story of the decline of Grover Norquist, the conservative activist who is seeing his near-iron grip on GOP tax policy over the past two decades slipping. One is Norquist’s weekly “Wednesday Meeting,” a gathering of “more than 150 elected officials, political activists, and movement leaders” who plot strategy and coordinate messaging every week. After big losses at the polls in last week’s election and a fracturing conservative base just as Congress heads into its most important tax negotiations in years, it’s safe to assume that this morning’s meeting was tense.

There was a time when almost every single elected Republican in Washington and even state capitals would sign Norquist’s anti-tax pledge, which binds elected officials to a promise not to raise taxes under any circumstance. As recently as last year’s negotiations over the debt ceiling, Norquist had fealty from a majority in the House of Representatives, including Speaker John Boehner and the entire GOP leadership. “60 Minutes’” Steve Kroft labeled Norquist “the most powerful man in Washington.” Those who violate his pledge could long expect to face attack ads aimed at unseating them, bankrolled by Norquist’s massive war chest. Americans for Tax Reform spent almost $16 million on independent expenditure ads in 2012. Crossing the group has always increased the likelihood of a primary challenge.

But times are changing. Today’s second interesting meeting is taking place a few blocks away from Norquist’s downtown D.C. headquarters, at the White House, where President Obama is meeting with a dozen CEOs of the country’s biggest corporations. How did Norquist react to news of Obama reaching out to the business community, which he aims to represent in Washington? Not positively. Norquist told the Washington Post the CEOs were “acting like a group of trained seals” for Obama, posing for a “photo op” to give the president cover.

You’d think Norquist would be happy that Obama is giving an audience to the titans of the private sector, but no. That’s because the meeting, which gives the president a chance to win some business support for his agenda without any input from Norquist, represents a threat to his personal power. Is his petulant reaction — he invoked the term “poopy head” on national TV on Monday — a sign that he’s losing his once awesome power over the nation’s capital? Maybe.

Norquist faces an unprecedented rear-guard attack as the congressional GOP fractures on the tax issue. Last year, there were 238 members of the House and 41 members of the Senate who had signed Norquist’s pledge. This year, there are just 217 in the House — one shy from the 218 needed for a majority — and 39 in the Senate, an all-time low. As the Hill’s Russell Berman reports, while Norquist claims his army is 219 strong in the House, two of those members have since disavowed Norquist’s pledge.

Democrats are hoping to exploit GOP divisions to push for tax increases on the wealthy during the lame duck session of Congress. “More and more people on the hill are realizing that Norquist is a has-been, and the outcome of the fiscal cliff will probably consign him to the footnote status he’s always deserved,” a senior Democratic aide told Salon.

The true scale of the desertion from Norquist’s pledge is actually obscured by GOP losses in the House. At least a dozen of the House Republicans’ top recruits, touted as “Young Guns,” declined to sign the pledge this year. Norquist’s group spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads explicitly defending candidates like California Republican Ricky Gill and Georgia Republican Lee Anderson against flak they were taking for signing the pledge. Both lost.

And back in Washington, where signing the pledge was once de rigueur, Republicans have been increasingly bold in rebuking Norquist. Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn has long been a sharp critic of the pledge’s inflexibility — “Grover, you’re stupid,” is just a sample — but now he’s being joined by a growing roster of colleagues. “Grover Norquist has no credibility, so I don’t respond to him. He doesn’t deserve being responded to,” said Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss. “Simply put, I believe Mr. Norquist is connected with and has profited from a number of unsavory people and groups out of the mainstream,” said longtime Virginia Republican Rep. Frank Wolf on the House floor.

Several members have even retreated from the pledge, such as Minnesota Rep. Chip Cravaack, who was elected in 2010 and had one of the nation’s highest profile races this year. “I have learned, never sign a damn pledge,” he said this spring when asked about Norquist’s pledge. Cravaack still lost. Indeed, the pledge came up in a number of races and there’s some evidence that it proved to be a political liability.

And it’s not just in rhetoric. Norquist faced one of the biggest legislative tests of his power when a subsidy for ethanol production came up for renewal last year. He staunchly opposed it, saying eliminating the tax subsidy would be a de facto tax increase and thus a violation of the pledge. Republicans joined Democrats to kill the subsidy anyway.

Norquist has also been rebuked on looming military cuts that will automatically take effect at the end of the year if Congress and the president fail to reach a budget deal. Republican hawks like Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have said they’re willing to raise taxes to preserve Pentagon funding. Asked about how this would conflict with the pledge this summer, Graham shrugged and said, “I’ve crossed the Rubicon on that.” Today, even Sen. John McCain said at the Washington Ideas Forum that “fewer and fewer people are signing this [Norquist] pledge.” He said this “somewhat triumphantly,” the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein noted.

Even former President George H.W. Bush and his son, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, an early 2016 favorite for the GOP nomination, have disowned Norquist publicly. “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?” the senior Bush told Parade magazine in July. “The pledge was presented to me three times. I never signed the pledge,” the younger Bush testified to Congress in June. “I don’t believe you outsource your principles and convictions to people.”

Of course, the tide has been turning against Norquist for some time, and his demise has been predicted before. But this crisis moment in Washington looks a lot like a breaking point for the anti-tax agenda. Speaker Boehner has already indicated willingness to increase revenues and the consensus among Washington power brokers is that taxes on the wealthy will go up one way or the other, even if rates stay the same. Indeed, President Obama has vowed to veto anything that doesn’t. And the problem with a hard-line pledge like Norquist’s is that it intentionally leaves no room for flexibility. So once the dam cracks, it can break wide open.

 

By: Alex Seitx-Wald, Salon, November 14, 2012

November 15, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Agog At His Magesty”: Grover Norquist Delivers The GOP’s Marching Orders

All hail Grover Norquist!

Bow down, Lindsey Graham. The Republican senator from South Carolina dared to say he might consider supporting a tax increase — but then Norquist paid him a visit on Wednesday. “Every once in a while you have somebody with an impure thought like Lindsey Graham,” Norquist told me. But after their talk, Norquist could report that “Graham will never vote for a tax increase.”

Kneel before him, Tom Coburn. The Republican senator from Oklahoma had toyed with the idea of supporting a deficit-reduction deal that includes some tax increases, before Norquist conquered him. “He had a moment of weakness where he thought you had to raise taxes to get spending restraint,” Norquist said. “He now knows that’s not true.”

Prostrate yourselves, House Republicans. On Thursday, a day after Republican senators hosted Norquist on their side of the Capitol, GOP House members opened up the Ways and Means Committee room so that he could counsel them on The Pledge, an anti-tax edict written by Norquist and signed by all but four House Republicans, most Republican senators and Mitt Romney.

Lawmakers leaving their private audience with Norquist were agog at his majesty. “I agree with him tremendously,” reported Rep. John Fleming (R-La.).

But Sander Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on Ways and Means, had a less favorable view of the spectacle as he stood in the hallway while Republicans in the committee room kissed Norquist’s ring.

“They’re in this committee room to hold royal court for the person who has asked people to take a pledge . . . not their constituents,” Levin complained. “Essentially, Norquist is here to hold feet to the fire when we need open minds.”

Norquist doesn’t dispute that. The tax-pledge effort he began a quarter-century ago is now the defining mantra of the party: no tax increases, no how, no way, no matter the consequences. With the possible exception of Newt Gingrich, Norquist has done more than anybody to bring about Washington’s political dysfunction.

Since he began, the federal debt has increased roughly eightfold. But Norquist still believes that as soon as next year victory will be his — all because of his pledge.

“Because almost all the Republicans took it, it became, actually, the branding of the party,” Norquist told me Thursday.

Although I think Norquist’s approach has been disastrous for the country, I am awed by his success with the pledge. Now Senate Democrats are trying to turn him into the GOP bogeyman of this election cycle.

“The leader of the Republican Party is up here today on the Hill. . . . You know who it is: It’s Grover Norquist,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said at a news conference Thursday, a couple of days after charging, with some validity, that Norquist “has the entire Republican Party in the palm of his hand.”

Norquist didn’t quarrel with the charge, as Fox News’s Chad Pergram put it to him, that he’s giving Republicans “their marching orders.”

“The modern Republican Party works with the taxpayer movement,” he replied, satisfied that “post-pledge, post-tea party, they’re not going to raise taxes.”

That’s probably because Norquist has convinced them that the long-sought victory is just months away. He predicts that Republicans will keep control of the House, take over the Senate, elect Romney president and promptly enact the Ryan budget. “It would be nice if some Democrats join, but it’s not necessary,” he said, arguing that the plan crafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) could clear the Senate with only 50 votes as part of the budget “reconciliation” process.

This seems unlikely. Even if they could use the procedure Norquist favors (anti-deficit rules make this difficult) Republicans would have to make their plan temporary, like the George W. Bush tax cuts. And the backlash is likely to make the Obamacare rebellion look tame. We’d quickly be back in the stalemate.

But Norquist’s loyalists in Congress are holding their ranks, dutifully coordinating talking points with him after their private tutorial Thursday on “how the pledge should be communicated.”

“We have a spending problem, and the taxpayer pledge helps us focus on the problem,” House conservative leader Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told reporters as he departed.

“The problem in Washington is spending,” echoed Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.).

Finally, out came the 55-year-old Norquist, all of 5-foot-6 with a graying beard. He spoke expansively to reporters for more than half an hour, waving off the notion that he might be becoming a PR problem for the party.

“There are significantly more Republicans in Congress since they started taking the pledge,” he said. “The advocates of spending more and taxing more are losing.”

Losing? Or just locked in an unending blood feud?

 

By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 22, 2012

June 24, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Grover Norquist Tells GOP That Raising Taxes On The Middle Class Doesn’t Count As A Tax Increase

Anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist, the president of Americans For Tax Reform and author of the radical anti-tax pledge that has played a significant role in hamstringing budget and deficit-reduction negotiations, has said that it is unacceptable for those who have signed his pledge to vote in favor of any tax increase. But now that President Obama and congressional Democrats are backing a tax cut aimed at stimulating economic growth, Norquist has changed his tune.

Norquist met with Republican members today to let them know that opposing the extension of the payroll tax cut — which would provide many families an extra $1,000 a year — would not amount to supporting a tax increase, National Journal’s Billy House reported today:

That stands in contrast, however, to Norquist’s position on tax cuts for the wealthy. Norquist has repeatedly warned GOP members about voting in favor of repealing the Bush tax cuts for the rich or tax hikes on millionaires, even verbally sparring with a member of a group of millionaires advocating for higher taxes on themselves last month in Washington, D.C. And yet, when it comes to tax cuts for the middle class meant to drive economic recovery, Norquist clearly takes a different stance.

Republicans who have defended those tax breaks for the wealthy aren’t so sure about holding the Norquist position, though. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) warned his rank and file this morning about opposing the extension, telling them that “taxes are a Republican issue and you aren’t a Republican if you want to raise taxes on struggling families to fund bigger government.” Multiple Republican senators, meanwhile, have come out in favor of the extension, and Sen. Sue Collins (R-ME) even proposed raising taxes on some wealthy Americans to pay for it.

 

By: Travis Waldron, Think Progress, December 1, 2011

December 2, 2011 Posted by | GOP, Wealthy | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

%d bloggers like this: