Alan Simpson and Grover Norquist Go to the Zoo

Grover Norquist, Alan Simpson and I spent a summer afternoon at the National Zoo. This is what I saw.

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Chris Buck for TIME

Alan Simpson and Grover Norquist, sans talking points, at the zoo.

MR. NORQUIST:  But here’s the cheerful news on agreeing with what you just said.  He has gotten the entire Republican caucus to vote with him and to get reelected.  So every Republican in the House has voted now three times for the Ryan Plan and gotten reelected in ’12 with the head wind against him because Obama was running at the top of the ticket.  They’re never going to have a more difficult race than the first time they ran in the new districts with Obama at the head of the ticket.  So the next four elections are easier than this one and they’ve all felt comfortable voting now three times for the Ryan Plan.

So they’re not scared to vote for entitlement reform the way people would have been 10 years or 20 years ago because they would have been sure it was poison.  The Senate has all voted correctly.  They just don’t have the majority of the Senate yet for the Republicans.  When you get them, we get this thing turned around.  That’s why I’m more optimistic about our ability to reign in spending, as you want to, without a tax increase.

I think the moment we agree to a tax increase, then all of a sudden all of the interest in the spending cuts disappears.

SENATOR SIMPSON:  But you’re not talking about tax reform and getting rid of $1 trillion, $100 billion in tax expenditures or parts thereof as a tax increase.

MR. NORQUIST:  I’m in favor of reducing, eliminating many tax deductions as long as the overall shifts are revenue neutral or a cut.  I’m not interested in raising revenue by getting rid of deductions and credits.

SENATOR SIMPSON:  No, but if you get rid of — do like we suggested, get rid of all of them and then go to a tax structure from zero to $70,000, you pay 8 percent.  From $70,000 to $210,000, you pay 14.  Everything over that, pay 23.  Take the corporate rate to 26 from 36, go to a territorial system where you bring it back without getting soaked.

MR. NORQUIST:  Those are all great.  I would just take the rates down a little bit so it’s not a tax increase.

MR. SCHERER:  That doesn’t help you on the debt.

MR. NORQUIST:  It does to growth.  Growth —

SENATOR SIMPSON:  Growth is nice, but we’re told by everybody that you can’t cut spending your way out of here and you can’t tax your way out of here and you can’t grow your way out without double-digit growth for 20 years.  That’s what we’re told.  We don’t know whether that’s true, but our Commission was told.

MR. NORQUIST:  CBO’s numbers are that if you go to three percent instead of two percent or four percent instead of three, one percent more growth for a decade, and Reagan grew if four and Obama is growing at two.  But if you only grow out one percent, not two percent, grow out one percent instead of two percent per decade, the government nets $2.5 trillion in higher revenue, no tax increase, just more growth.

So growth gets you a long way there.  You grow at four percent instead of two percent, $5 trillion off the table.  You take that top rate, you take the corporate rate down 25 from 35, you’ll get a point off right there.  You do expensing, you do territoriality, it’s tremendous growth out of there.  You get economic growth from — CBO just scored the immigration bill as a tremendous pro-growth bill because of the way it increases the workforce.

SENATOR SIMPSON:  If it’s done with a proper identifier, yes.  When the employer is protected from the guy faking all the documents and all the stuff they do.

MR. NORQUIST:  So we’re making progress on immigration.  I think it does get passed.  And it’s a big compromise.

SENATOR SIMPSON:  How about when it gets to the House.  Boy, they’ll go goofy.

MR. NORQUIST:  They have to touch it and improve it, so they feel loved and appreciated and not ignored.  But at the end of the day I think it will pass.

SENATOR SIMPSON:  I know it will pass the Senate in some form because Schumer wants it badly and McCain wants it badly and Chambliss.  But in the House, I just think they’re going to have the word amnesty will spring up and make these guys do this.  How do you pay back taxes when you don’t have any money?  I mean it’s a nice idea.

MR. NORQUIST:  The other thing is these guys have been paying taxes.  They’ve been paying property taxes, sales taxes and if they work for a company, they’ve been paying income taxes and corporate income taxes and Social Security taxes.  It’s just under somebody else’s name.

SENATOR SIMPSON:  That’s right.

MR. NORQUIST:  So it’s not like they’re not paying taxes.

MR. SCHERER:  I wonder where the orangutans went.  They went down here and then they disappeared.

MR. NORQUIST:  They went inside.

[Later, by the big cats, the tiger and the lions, the discussion continued.]

MR. NORQUIST:  What are we looking at?

MR. SCHERER:  Tiger up there.

SENATOR SIMPSON:  Aren’t many of them left, are there?  You still read every other day, some trainer has been mauled.  They’re like humans.  They can go goofy in an atmosphere like this.  No freedom.


SENATOR SIMPSON:  And then they suddenly tear into somebody.  Boy look at that, they’re a noble thing, aren’t they?

MR. SCHERER:  See, you guys are getting along awfully well, but every time I see you on TV, Senator, you’re saying that Grover is a danger to the country.

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