Steel Cage Match
In this corner…“the most powerful man in America not sitting in the White House.” That’s what Lawrence O’Donnell calls him. He has a signed pledge of loyalty from every influential Republican politician, including state governors, Congressmen, presidents all the way up to (and including) George W. Bush, and every one of the currently-serving GOP senators. And yet members of his own party are often critical of, and sometimes at war with him. Frank Gaffney thinks he’s a Muslim Brotherhood sleeper agent, and Tucker Carlson, of all people, once called him a mean-spirited, dishonest, humorless little creep.
Who is this interesting combatant? It’s Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, who aggressively lobbies for smaller government, lower tax rates, and absolutely no increases in taxation. Ever. For any reason at all.
Norquist grew up wealthy in Massachusetts and attended the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia, an organization that teaches conservative Americans how to influence public policy through activism and leadership. He was deeply involved in government before he turned thirty, and founded Americans for Tax Reform in 1985 at the request of Ronald Reagan.
He is a firm advocate of smaller government, famous for his oft-quoted quip: “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”
Despite being married to a Kuwaiti PR expert, and a long-time champion of Muslim causes in America, Norquist has described himself as a “boring white bread Methodist” And although considered by many besides Lawrence O’Donnell as one of the most powerful men in the nation, Norquist is said to live a modest lifestyle. According to friend and former roommate John Fund, Norquist’s devotion to conservative causes is “monk-like” and comparable to the ideological fervency of Ralph Nader.
He is most famous for his “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” which he trots around to virtually every Republican who attains any high political office, and invariably gets them to sign because not to do so in the modern Republican party is at best an act of rare political courage, and at worst suicidal. After yielding and signing Norquist’s pledge, politicians are hamstrung by what they’ve done and have no latitude to make intelligent fiscal decisions. This is what gives Norquist his immense power. He has these people committed on paper to a stance that is very difficult to wriggle away from, even for politicians, who tend to be champion wrigglers. And Norquist is brutal about keeping them on the hook.
But we are now witnessing a surprising rebellion among the ranks of Norquist’s hapless tax hostages. It appears he has finally tackled the wrong politician at the wrong time, and the fallout promises to be both spectacularly entertaining, and terribly worrying to conservative purists. Norquist found himself at odds with the other warrior in this steel cage match, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), over the issue of reducing ethanol subsidies, an initiative that Coburn has sponsored in the Senate. Norquist feels that cutting subsidies, even to big corporations, is the same thing as a tax increase. He maintains that Coburn’s action was in violation of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which Coburn has signed like every other GOP Senator.
Coburn called that accusation nonsense, causing gasps of shock and fear from his Republican colleagues. Norquist, also stunned by this unheard-of opposition, indulged in a lot of wordy bluster, angry letters to newspapers and bombastic appearances on television. When Coburn refused to back down even in the face of this public onslaught, Norquist actually yielded a tiny bit and suggested perhaps the subsidies could be slightly reduced if states would introduce offsetting tax cuts. But this in turn infuriated other high-profile Republicans, who felt such a deal would make a mockery of the pledge all of them have signed and then been forced to obey.
Coburn’s first effort to tackle ethanol subsidies, co-sponsored by Dianne Feinstein, was passed in the Senate on June 16, with 33 Republicans who have signed The Pledge banding together to defy Grover Norquist for the first time ever. They used the obvious fig leaf of an upcoming tax cut proposed by Jim DeMint that will offset the reduced subsidies… but everyone knows DeMint’s bill may never even come to a vote.
The steel cage match is still on, and it seems that Norquist, while not yet vanquished, has now been visibly weakened. It will be fascinating to watch as this battle continues to unfold…and to see what impact it may have on the upcoming budget and deficit wars, in which the Republicans have flatly declared that revenue increases of any kind will simply not be considered in efforts to address the nation’s dire economic situation.
If the Signers Of The Pledge can finally turn on Grover Norquist in defiance, then virtually anything can happen.
- Is Ending Subsidies a Tax Increase? (outsidethebeltway.com)
- Grover Norquist Rebuked By GOP (huffingtonpost.com)
- Senate vote to repeal ethanol tax credit fails, but some in GOP break ranks — Washington Post (news.google.com)
- Lawrence O’Donnell Lauds Sen. Coburn’s ‘Brave’ Tax Battle With Grover Norquist (mediaite.com)
- GOP quandary: Is a vote to eliminate tax breaks actually a tax hike? — Christian Science Monitor (news.google.com)
- Why Grover Norquist Is The Most Feared Man In Washington (businessinsider.com)
- Grover Norquist Is Running America (lezgetreal.com)
- Senate shoots down proposal to end ethanol subsidies (autoblog.com)
- A first crack in the GOP’s ‘no new taxes’ armor? (csmonitor.com)
- U.S. Debt Crisis Exposes Oz Behind Tax Pledge (businessweek.com)
- Oh my: Senate votes to end ethanol subsidies, 73⁄27 (hotair.com)
- Bernanke rebukes Republicans; Republicans rebuke Norquist (proseandthorn.wordpress.com)