Anybody who thinks lil Grover Norquist is down and out hasn’t seen a zombie movie. You know the ones. Just when you think the evil zombie who has been biting young blondes’ legs off is finally dead, the hero begins to stand up from the supposedly-once-and-for-all dead zombie, it reaches up, grabs hero-boy by his chest-bearing open collar, pulls the hero down and bites his face off.
Trust But Verify
I had a brief, but intense feeling of hope when Tom Coburn, (R) Senator, Oklahoma, (a vehemently vocal enemy of government waste), had proffered a bill to eliminate a ridiculous tax subsidy for ethanol(one of many ridiculous Republican-backed, welfare-for-industries-who-don’t-need-them).
Lil Grover, America’s prominent Koch Brothers front man and anti-tax activist argued that removing the credit without passing an counterbalance tax cut amounted to a tax increase and would violate his sacrosanct no-new-taxes pledge that is supposed to strike fear into every Republican’s heart. The dust up ended with Senator Coburn calling Mr Norquist “stupid”. Of course neither wanted to be viewed as favoring tax increases or corporate payola. Yet that is exactly what they accused one another of last year.
Republicans who want to keep their jobs do not, as a rule, call lil Grover names in public. Since 1986 he has been asking candidates for public office to sign his Taxpayer Protection Pledge, in which they reject tax increases of any sort for the rest of their political lives. Those who balk are branded as tax-loving traitors, by Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), and by their political rivals in Republican primaries. Fear of Norquist resources and messaging is so widespread that 238 members of the 112th House of Representatives and all but 3 of the senators have taken the pledge.
He’s been called everything from “the dark wizard of the right’s anti-tax cult” to “the Darth Cheney” of gridlock. Republicans tend to treat lil Grover as the Michael Corleone of the party. Democrats seemingly view lil Grover as the scythian axe to the Koch Brothers’ Attillas the Huns.
Light At The End of The Tunnel? Don’t Bet On It
But there seems to be a glimmer of hope among Republicans of late. The curse Mr Norquist has cast over the Republican Party appears to be weakening lately. “Who the hell is Grover Norquist anyway?” asked George Bush senior in July. The former president might be dismissed as a relic of the past, still bitter about the lashing he received from the right after breaking his 1988 campaign promise not to raise taxes. But Tom Coburn is another matter. And he is not the only sitting member of Congress to express similar views. Peter King, Republican Congressman from New York, and Mr Norquist recently exchanged pleasantries with Norquist questioning Congressman King’s commitments and Congressman King saying his wife would knock Mr Norquist’s head off after Mr Norquist questioned whether Mrs King might be wise to check on her husband’s commitments as well.
Recently Frank Wolf, a representative from Virginia, recommended that Mr Norquist is defending tax breaks out of servitude to unnamed corporate bankrollers. “Have we really reached the point where one person’s demand for ideological purity is paralyzing Congress?” he asked last year. Saxby Chambliss, a Republican Senator from Georgia involved in bipartisan talks on deficit reduction, declared last year that “Grover Norquist has no credibility.”
The vast majority of Republicans in the incoming 113th Congress will still be signatories of the pledge. But opposition is growing: the number of hold-outs in the House has expanded from six members to 16. A handful of Republican congressmen have even publicly rejected the pledge, meaning that from next year Mr Norquist will have lost his majority. And many others have advised that they would be prepared to consider a “grand bargain”, which raised revenue by ending tax credits and deductions, as long as Democrats agreed to cost-cutting changes to Medicare and Social Security.
The Zombie Awakens
The dark wizard himself, with venerable self-confidence, insists that little has changed and that, when push comes to shove, Republicans will stick to the pledge. Norquist declares that Democrats are not serious about entitlement reform. Those Republicans offering tax increases in exchange are capitulating when there is no need to do so. In the end, Mr Norquist predicts, the president will blink and drop his demand that tax rates on the rich must rise, just as he did during a similar stand-off two years ago.
If that sounds like more bloviating bluster, realize this. Most Republicans in the House have more to fear from a primary than the general election. Even if the Republican leadership agrees to a revenue-raising deal, its disobedient rank and file may not back them. And politicians hate embarrassment almost as much as they hate having to get real jobs. Despite Norquist’s prediction of a Republican sweep in the elections, Barack Obama remains in office, and the Democrats actually picked up seats in both the House and Senate. And it is hard to see how headlines like “Grover Norquist the Has-Been” and “Is it Over for Grover?” help his cause.
By any standard other than the absurdly high one he has set himself, though, Mr Norquist continues to dictate Washington’s tax debate. Almost all revenue-raising proposals hinge on eliminating deductions, rather than raising marginal rates. If President Obama does succeed in raising the income-tax rate for the richest individuals, it will have taken him two elections and all manner of fiscal stand-offs to do it. Moreover, success is still far from certain.
Grover is not over yet. Let down your guard at your own and the country’s peril Democrats.