How Grover Norquist’s Anti-Tax Pledge Is Broken

Norquist’s proposition is so sweeping that it cannot last in its current form.

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My colleague Massimo Calabresi has written that anti-tax guru Grover Norquist’s pledge will survive, primarily because “it’s a winning issue with voters.” Indeed, the simplicity of the pledge is its brilliance; you may not believe a politician when he or she says, “I will not raise taxes,” but you will if the statement is in writing. Alas, there are no simple solutions to the fiscal cliff and it is because Norquist’s proposition is so sweeping, it cannot last in its current form.

The American for Tax Reform pledge has two requirements:

ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.

The fiscal cliff debate seems to be on Norquist’s turf: Republicans have resisted any increase on the marginal income tax rates even though some, like Senator Bob Corker, have proposed capping itemized deductions as a way of raising revenue. Under the pledge, Republicans would be obliged to cut an equal amount from the federal government’s budget to fulfill the second half of the pledge (in Corker’s case, $750 billion), but presumably that wouldn’t be a problem for the party of small government. What is the issue is popular trend.

According to a recent Washington Post/ABC poll, 60% of Americans support raising taxes on incomes over $250,000 a year, while 44% support capping deductions. A July Pew poll reported that 26% of Americans believe the rich pay their fair share in taxes.

The November 6 election didn’t change control of the Senate or House, or remove President Obama, but it did reveal a leftward shift on taxes. President Obama ran on raising taxes on the wealthy, former Governor Mitt Romney offered to cap deductions, and the President won. Democrats gained at least seven seats in the House, and two in the Senate.

By Norquist’s account, the pledge will apply to 19 fewer Representatives and two less Senators when the next Congress is sworn in. Some that have signed it have voiced support for breaking it. Rep. King told NBC’s “Meet the Press,” “The world has changed, and the economic situation is different.” Sen. Corker agreed that he was “not obligated on the pledge,” and Sen. Chambliss told Georgia WMAZ, “I care a lot more about my country- I care a lot more about it than I do about Grover Norquist.” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Senator Lindsey Graham have also voiced opposition.

While Norquist has countered that these are the same politicians that threatened to break the pledge two years ago, higher stakes and an election have changed the political climate. As Politico reports today, “Republicans publicly say they are opposed to rate hikes — but privately they know they are going up, if not all the way to the Clinton-era 39.6 percent, then darn close.” Only by compromising on tax rates can Congress reach the expected $1.2 trillion in new revenues (Speaker Boehner has advocated for $800 billion and President Obama $1.6 trillion), and there is no compromise on income rates in Norquist’s pledge.

A Pew Center Research poll taken just after the election found that 53% of Americans would blame Republicans if an agreement is not reached, compared to 29% who said the fault would lie more with Obama. In an interview with Politico’s Mike Allen, Norquist said he would “change the playing field” by putting the negotiations on C-SPAN (Obama pledged the same thing on health care reform in the 2008 campaign and look how that turned out). He thinks this would show that it is Democrats who are blocking passage, through their opposition to cutting entitlements.

It some ways the pledge has already been cracked. In 2011, a bill eliminating $6 billion in tax subsidies for ethanol producers received the support of 33 Republican Senators without a similar $6 billion cut. While small, the bill showed that a conservative Senator like Tom Coburn was able to build support against Norquist’s pledge. A major bill enacting up to $4 trillion in cuts and tax increases would be a much bigger indicator of the pledge’s chances of survival.

There have been points where the pledge seemed flexible enough to survive. Last year, the Washington Post asked Norquist if letting the Bush tax cuts expire would violate the pledge. “Not continuing a tax cut is not technically a tax increase,” Norquist replied. “We wouldn’t hold it that way.”

But the next day, his group clarified, “It is a violation of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge to trade temporary tax reductions for permanent tax hikes.”

The pledge’s simple language on tax rates will be its undoing. Any time there seems to be a crack in its armor, Americans for Tax Reform must prove that the pledge still requires no new increase in income tax rates, and a revenue neutral approach to cuts and taxes. Without such an ironclad statement, politicians may just as well say, “Read my lips: no new taxes.”

While popular support for the pledge falters, the Republican Party must learn how to exist without it. “The Republican Party has built a brand as the party that won’t raise your taxes,” says Norquist. “The pledge plays an important role in making that easier to do because the pledge doesn’t change over time, it doesn’t change across state lines.” The pledge and the Republican Party are linked by ink, a tattoo the Republican Party may one day soon regret.

24 comments
jmmarvin
jmmarvin

The 1% control 99% of wealth. Thank god their taxes are going up. Should be 100% taxation!!!

ndb29401
ndb29401

@Stavanger16 @moment_um @TIMEPolitics Norquist's Pledge violates Oath of Office & Art I Sec 8 [1] Congress' Power to lay taxes and pay debts

wininmad
wininmad

@tutticontenti Outrageous that he was allowed as power as he had for so long when he needs to be investigated for trying to sabotage the US

chupkar
chupkar

So writing keeps them accountable but video does not? Since politicians are often on tape saying one thing to one set of people and another to another set of people. WHY?

HudsonValleyTim
HudsonValleyTim

Let's say that the Democratic House all decided to swear an oath to an oil industry lobbyist to oppose all legislation that requires an increase in fuel-efficiency, or to an IAWU lobbyist to oppose all increases in crash-safety? Isn't it the same thing here? Everyone drives, and both types of legislation would drive-up the cost of cars, and put a burden on the lobbyists clients.

There would be screams of treason coming from John Boehner and Eric Cantor. But in this case, since the primary beneficiary of Grover's largess is the GOP's favorite group...rich white guys, then it's all-cool.

I will echo what many in the swamp have already said...the only pledge that congress needs to honor is the pledge of allegiance, and the only oath they must follow is their oath of office. Swearing allegiance to any interest group while holding public office is treason.

BruceStrong
BruceStrong

Hey I'm all for taxing someone else and increased Federal spending by borrowing MORE money. Who wants to pay bills anyway, much better with someone else does! Who cares anyway. I'll be dead in 20 years... Live life with other peoples money!!!

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

There's a simpler way to show that it's broken: it's a proposal to not raise taxes when taxes exist at historic lows. You can never raise taxes.

kbanginmotown
kbanginmotown

Previous Norquist Post: "Why Grover Norquist and His Anti-Tax Pledge Will Survive the Fiscal Cliff"

Posted on Front Page, Tweeted on Twitter

After 2 days: Comment Count 1000+ (Mostly locusts and bickering)

--------This Norquist Post: "How Grover Norquist's Anti-Tax Pledge is Broken"

Not on Front Page, Not tweeted

After a day: 11 Comments

--------High Sheriffs: Swampland's dying and you're cool with this?

abefrommangb
abefrommangb

I remember the GOP reality TV show, otherwise known as their primary debates where they all pledged to refuse a 10-1 deal (10 cuts for 1 revenue) and all the geriatrics in attendance applauded!

Look where the GOP is now.  They will be lucky to get a 3:1 deal (three being REVENUE!)!

drudown
drudown

No credible student of Economics or History can deny that the practical implications of Norvquist's position hurt the both the United States' and our elected leaders' constituents' fiscal, strategic and economic interests. Taken to its illogical conclusion, Norvquist's illusory pledge- a promise made without any legal consideration- would unduly hinder Congress' ability to raise revenue. It should be legally challenged on the grounds it improperly interferes with Interstate Commerce, not to mention it is an egregious conflict of interest. No elected official should pledge loyalty to a lobbyist, particularly one seemingly hell bent on weakening the US dollar.  

SamOsborne
SamOsborne

Any public servant that thinks they owe more in pledge to a lobbyist like Grover Norquist than they do by oath of office to the people they are elected to serve knows nothing of loyalty of any kind and deserves to suffer the fate of those that allow themselves to be opportunistically misguided in letting their office be so totally misused by a party outside of their constituency.

dunedweller
dunedweller

It amazes me that Boehner can say with a straight face that raising taxes on the 1% will hurt small business and kill job creation, when it only takes a quick google search to find that the large majority of those folks do not create jobs, and for the few who do it's widely known that demand creates jobs, not tax breaks. Providing tax breaks to the 99% -- the ones that demand products & services -- now that makes sense.

MrObvious
MrObvious

The pledge was nonsense from day one. There's only one oath our congress critters have to make - breaking a promise to a lobbyist ain't it.

Coach63DH
Coach63DH

When the tax rate was higher for capitalists, as in the fifties, to avoid paying those high taxes, they plowed their profits back into the companies--improving the product, hiring more employees, giving benefits, and not cutting corners --instead of keeping the profits to buy their jet planes and yachts.

jmmarvin
jmmarvin

And on that note, why should I even be taxed when Mitt Romney hasn't even paid any for 25 years?

jmmarvin
jmmarvin

Tax rates should be 75% on people making over $250,000. Its such BS that they keep all the money and pay no taxes! I have a mortgage to pay!

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

This Beltway "pledge" meme is nothing but ridiculous. Republicans agreed to raise tax rates in 2001, 2003 and again in 2010. Please stop embarrassing yourself and destroying the republic.

JohnYuEsq
JohnYuEsq

Rome is burning! Stop squabbling and get going! RAISE taxes on the WELL TO DO, and leave the rest of US ALONE!

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

Repeat from yesterday: Grover is to the Republicals as the NRA is to the whole country. 

i.e., pseudo-powerful.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@BruceStrong 

How about we raise taxes while cutting the budget; a balanced and sensible approach?  I know hyperbole sounds nice but taxes are at historic lows, and those that will see an increase already pay a minimum percentage anyways (of those historic lows).

chupkar
chupkar

I had to reload the page just to get a cursor in the reply box. Again. *sigh* Also, I was on here yesterday, the 29th and several of these posts did not appear, yet looking at reply times, they appeared to some! I do not understand why Time has so much trouble when other sites do not.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@kbanginmotown 

They seem to not care anymore how many people post vile or even racist comments, so long as the discourse continues.

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

Maybe it was the first day of Festivus.