FLASHBACK: Norquist on whether letting Bush tax cuts expire violates ATR pledge

"Not continuing a tax cut is not technically a tax increase"

November 27, 2012

By a 17-Point Margin the American People Favor Ending the Bush Tax Breaks for the Richest 2% and Once Upon a Time the Ultimate Arbiter of the Anti-Tax Pledge That Most Republicans in Congress Signed and Live By Gave Them an Opening to Do Just That

FLASHBACK, July 2011: Grover Norquist on Whether Letting Bush Tax Cuts Expire Would Violate His Anti-Tax Pledge:

“Not continuing a tax cut is not technically a tax increase
[SOURCE: Washington Post editorial // July 20, 2011; full text below, listen to audio HERE]

Norquist was crystal clear in the statements he made to the Post Editorial Board in 2011 – that he did not view allowing a tax cut to expire as a violation of his tax pledge – but his organization did later seek to “clarify” the remarks.  The incident raised a question that remains unanswered to this day: why do Republicans in Congress feel more beholden to some pledge that is arbitrary even to its author than they do to the wishes of the middle class families they are supposed to represent.  How many more elections do they have to lose before they reassess their priorities?

It’s not to too late for Republicans in Congress to start pledging allegiance to the middle class families they represent instead of a Washington special interest group.

Out from under the anti-tax pledge

By Editorial, Published: July 20, 2011

WITH A HANDFUL of exceptions, every Republican member of Congress has signed a pledge against increasing taxes. Would allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire as scheduled in 2012 violate this vow? We posed this question to Grover Norquist, its author and enforcer, and his answer was both surprising and encouraging: No.

In other words, according to Mr. Norquist’s interpretation of the Americans for Tax Reform pledge, lawmakers have the technical leeway to bring in as much as $4 trillion in new tax revenue — the cost of extending President George W. Bush’s tax cuts for another decade — without being accused of breaking their promise. “Not continuing a tax cut is not technically a tax increase,” Mr. Norquist told us. So it doesn’t violate the pledge? “We wouldn’t hold it that way,” he said.

Of course, letting the tax cuts expire is decidedly not Mr. Norquist’s preference. Indeed, as a matter of policy, he is passionately opposed to a single dime in new tax revenue. But the fact that Mr. Norquist interprets his own pledge to permit such conduct suggests that Republican lawmakers who have been browbeaten into abjuring any tax increase, at any time, for any reason, may not be as boxed in as they believe. The official Republican line has been that allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire, even for those earning more than $250,000, would be a job-killing tax increase. The fact that the godfather of the pledge does not interpret the lapse as an increase is significant.

Mr. Norquist’s comments come at a moment of remarkable and welcome fluidity in what had seemed to be a solid wall of Republican opposition to raising any tax revenue at any time for any reason. The surprising reemergence and expansion of the Senate Gang of Six this week was accompanied by a flurry of statements from Republican senators endorsing a proposal that included $1 trillion in new tax revenue. “This is a serious, bipartisan proposal that will help stop Washington from spending money that we don’t have, and I support it,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the GOP conference chair. “A fair compromise,” said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.). There may not be time to translate the gang plan into law as the debt ceiling looms, but these reactions suggest that future negotiations could be conducted from a base line of reality.

Too often in recent years, the tax debate has resembled a one-way ratchet: Taxes can go down but never back up, except if a booming economy produces additional revenue. It is important to remember that the Bush tax cuts were passed at a moment when, hard as it may be to believe, enormous surpluses were in sight and a big worry among economic poobahs was whether the debt was being paid off too quickly. There is no policy basis for insisting that these tax rates are graven in stone and immune to change given the changed circumstances. And the Norquist pledge, it turns out, is not a suicide pact preventing such a sober reassessment.


Listen to an audio excerpt from Norquist’s discussion with the Post editorial board.