We met by the Przewalski’s horse pen. The idea was simple. Bring together two bitter antagonists, in this case former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson and conservative tax activist Grover Norquist, and make them do something fun together that has nothing to do with their mutual animosities. My proposal: We spend a summer afternoon at the National Zoo, and see if everyone could behave while talking about tax policy.
Norquist was immedietly enthusiastic, and Simpson soon came around. “Perhaps Grover could pose inside the tiger and I could be outside,” Simpson wrote me in an email. “No really, I’m ready to do anything that might be instructive in showing how two guys can go ‘at each other’ and still remain outside the tiger cage.” The result of our trip to the zoo on June 19, including encounters with the orangutans and gawking at the Komodo Dragon, can be found in this week’s issue of TIME magazine, which is available here by subscribing to a month of TIME magazine for $2.99.
But not all of their banter made it into that article, so I have reproduced some additional excerpts from the first chunk of the 83-minute transcript below.
First some background. Simpson is a fast-talking former Wyoming Senator who comprises one half of the “Bowles-Simpson” plan for deficit reduction, a bipartisan proposal that would lead to about $3 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases. His favorite animal is the elk—” beautiful animals and they’re big and they’re powerful.” Norquist is the author and enforcer of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which has been signed by most Congressional Republicans, binding them against ever voting to raise taxes. His favorite animal is the ostrich—”and I just think they’re fun to watch.” They have been locked in battle over whether Republicans should agree to modest tax increases as part of a big deficit reduction deal.
On cable television, and in the press, they regularly savage each other. Simpson calls Norquist a “zealot.” Norquist will make comments about Simpson’s age and drinking habits. Simpson will jest about Norquist slipping in the bath tub. It goes on. Also, both men love telling jokes.
So we began by Przewalski’s horses, short furry creatures known to roam the Asian highlands of Kazakhstan and Mongolia.
GROVER NORQUIST: Good to see you, Senator.
SENATOR ALAN SIMPSON: Grover, good to see you.
MR. NORQUIST: Absolutely.
SENATOR SIMPSON: We have to be crazy to do this, but I thought it was good to do it. We’re about half goofy.
MR. NORQUIST: Sounds like fun.
SENATOR SIMPSON: It will be.
MR. SCHERER: So my idea is as much as you guys just want to talk. I can prompt you with stuff, but I’d like to just watch you guys talk as much as possible, so feel free to go off and we’ll just walk down the hill, see some of the animals. I’ve got a little path planned out.
MR. NORQUIST: Okay, okay.
SENATOR SIMPSON: I would say this is quite a guy and he and I have been at it for years.
MR. NORQUIST: Decades.
SENATOR SIMPSON: But he and I have the same idea. We’re both Americans. And we both want less government. We just have different ideas of how the hell to get there. Does that seem fair?
MR. NORQUIST: Yes, I guess I would argue that the last three years suggest that what I posited, which is you can reduce spending without paying the other side higher taxes. There was a sense, and a number of people shared it, that we couldn’t get budget restraint unless there was a tax increase. This is what the Democrats offered Reagan in ’82, $3 of spending cuts for $1 of tax increase. In ’82, the tax increases of real spending cuts didn’t happen and the tax increases are permanent and still there. We never got spending cuts. In ’90, Bush was offered $2 of spending cuts for every $1 of tax increase which I always thought was just insulting. Reagan, they offered $3 of imaginary spending cuts and Bush, they said you’re a cheaper date. You can have $2 of imaginary spending cuts. And that didn’t happen either.
So what I was arguing this last time and this is why the taxpayer protection pledge was helpful because you’ve got a majority of almost all the Republican House and Senate say we’re not raising taxes. If you say you’re not raising taxes, you can begin to have a conversation about reform in government. But if tax increases are on the table, the Ds never let you get to a conversation about reform in government to cost less because they always offer another tax increase rather than spending restraint.
What came out of this last fight, 2011, the sort of showdown, and then I guess it was recreated in the fall of 2012, no, the fall of 2011, where they did the Super Committee. And each time the Rs held and said we’re not raising taxes. We have to cut spending.
. . .
SENATOR SIMPSON: When I asked you over when we testified that Ronald Reagan did raise taxes eight times in his administration and it was a high success. I did say that and you said, ‘I didn’t like that.’
MR. NORQUIST: No, no. What I would argue is that in ’82, which was the significant big tax increase, you had a pre-Reagan Senate and a Democratic House. Both bodies wanted to raise taxes. Reagan was in the middle of the conflict with the Soviet Union. And he was forced, he felt, into that agreement. I think it was a mistake. Certainly, he said afterwards that it was the biggest mistake of his presidency.
SENATOR SIMPSON: Eight times?
MR. NORQUIST: ’82 is the biggest mistake of his presidency. And I would argue, yeah, each of the tax increases we would have been better off had he not done that, but the good news is just as the country moves forward and the Republican party learns from history and from what works and what doesn’t work, we now have a Republican party which is a Reagan Republican party. Reagan didn’t have a Reagan Republican House or Senate when he was President. He was one of the few Reaganites in D.C.
You now have a majority of the Republicans in the House and Senate that are Reagan Republicans who want to limit size of government and they’ve made a commitment to their voters that they’re not going to raise taxes. They will reduce spending.
Yes, Reagan did that. I mean Lincoln tolerated slavery, but that was a while ago. We don’t do that anymore. And so —
SENATOR SIMPSON: You talk so that I can build up a whole litany of conversation.
MR. NORQUIST: That’s fine. He’s got a tape. He can put it in as we go.
SENATOR SIMPSON: Well, I don’t want to do that. But anyway, the important thing for me this day is for the American public to see a couple of guys who go at each other and with relish and we can talk. I think the worst thing that can happen in the country and it’s happening is give each other the ice treatment, like I ain’t talking to you. That’s just bullshit. I ain’t talking to North Korea. I ain’t talking to Iran. To me, that has never made — and certainly, then the word compromise, good God, every document in our history is the subject of compromise. The Declaration of Independence, three months of putting the Constitution, every word in it is compromised. And those are the things that trouble me.
MR. NORQUIST: I agree with you, certainly on the first point, and I think mostly on the second point. I think it’s always important to talk. You always learn, even if you’re going to disagree you learn where the other person is coming from. You always get ideas. You may not be willing to admit it quite at the time, but later as you think about it, you learn.
And I never understood the argument some had, don’t talk to Iran or North Korea. How would it hurt you to talk to them?
SENATOR SIMPSON: You feel that way? I feel that way deeply.
MR. NORQUIST: If they ask you for Wyoming, you say no. Talking to somebody doesn’t mean you have to —
SENATOR SIMPSON: We simply don’t talk because we give up. I said you don’t have to give up anything. Just tell them to stuff it.
MR. NORQUIST: It’s people who aren’t in the room who don’t just the guys who would be part of the negotiations, whose position is don’t talk because I think you’ll give up stuff.
SENATOR SIMPSON: Give away something, yeah.
MR. NORQUIST: And the answer is if people felt free to — look at North Korea. We, every day, as I understand it, the American military and the North Korean military talk every day at the border. Now if you only talk once every seven — to make sure nobody is shooting each other and hitting each other with axes, and there are no mistakes in terms of violence that they weren’t planning, but nobody, the press doesn’t sit there breathlessly saying what did you agree to today? Because we meet every day.
But if you’re going to have these summits every three years, then you have the problem where you’re expected to do something. And remember, they yelled at Reagan because he didn’t do something on Reykjavik.
SENATOR SIMPSON: I remember that.
MR. NORQUIST: So the more times you meet and the more times you talk, the easier it is to meet and talk and nobody has false expectations.
[At this point we had reached the outdoor gorilla pen.]
MR. NORQUIST: Domestically, I think it’s a very good idea to talk to people and I much prefer debates to parallel speeches because everybody is better —
SENATOR SIMPSON: Well, you’re good at it.
MR. NORQUIST: Well, everybody is better in a debate because they don’t get sloppy. There’s that wonderful New Yorker cartoon where the Mussolini character is out on the balcony and he’s saying to this crowd, “And I think I can say without fear of contradiction …” Of course, you can. You’re the only guy there.
But in a debate, you can’t say something without fear of contraction, so you better not make stuff up.
SENATOR SIMPSON: I did one of those with Grover and we hammered each other.
MR. NORQUIST: That was fun. We never got to pee in public though.
SENATOR SIMPSON: It was a public debate in a private location.
MR. SCHERER: How many years back was it?
MR. NORQUIST: Three or four.
SENATOR SIMPSON: Three or four.
MR. NORQUIST: It was about the time that some of the big fights about whether we should raise taxes or how we should approach a budget deal. How many times had you been there? I was the first time for me.
SENATOR SIMPSON: I had given a couple of lake-side lectures before on politics as a context for it. And you can’t love democracy and hate politicians. That really pissed them off.
MR. NORQUIST: This is the — what’s it called?
SENATOR SIMPSON: The Bohemian Grove.
MR. NORQUIST: Bohemian Grove.
MR. SCHERER: Out in California.
MR. NORQUIST: Yeah, the whole thing, all I was told about it is that people pee in public. And I never saw any peeing in public.
SENATOR SIMPSON: No, they have pee-free zones.
MR. NORQUIST: You know, I went to the store, to the shop and I said I want to buy one of those no yellow pee signs. And they said we don’t sell them. I said you’ve got to be kidding me.
You would do a land office — you see a little yellow drop and a little sign no on it. I said this —
MR. SCHERER: Does the redwood tree start to smell?
SENATOR SIMPSON: Speaking of which, Goldwater said years ago, everybody was talking about leaks now. He said, “Look, there are more leaks in this government than in the bathroom at the Anheuser Busch brewery.”
MR. NORQUIST: Goldwater said that? That’s pretty good.
SENATOR SIMPSON: Yeah, it was a quote the other day. I thought that’s the kind of stuff you pull up and I pull up. They said is it tough, your work? I said like giving dry birth to a porcupine. They go, God, that’s disgusting.
MR. NORQUIST: Ouch.
SENATOR SIMPSON: Yes. I learned all those phrases when I worked with irrigators and they ruined my life. But he is very sharp, very clever, very astute, did his homework.
MR. SCHERER: Let me ask, you’re both talking about dialogue and compromise. Is there any room, you think, for compromise?
SENATOR SIMPSON: To me, it’s always the rule of compromise. But to have people say I just don’t compromise on anything, those people are about as rigid as a fireplace poker but without the occasional warmth.
MR. NORQUIST: Is this a Western thing? Because I once spent a day with a guy from Alabama and we drove around and we did all these little radio shows on tax stuff. And went from one to another. And he must have had a hundred sayings along those lines and he never repeated himself. I kept waiting to see whether he was on a continuous loop of some kind. I didn’t know whether he was making them up or had a book of a thousand of them or just picked them up over time. It was just — people in Boston don’t talk like that.
SENATOR SIMPSON: And they don’t work in a hayfield with guys who are called irrigators either.
Who are just terribly profound people and very earthy and well, ugly. No, they’re not. Where is Frankenstein? Not there.
MR. NORQUIST: He’s not out.
MR. SCHERER: I saw one on the other side earlier.
MR. NORQUIST: On the compromise stuff, one of the ways I’ve tried to frame it and explain to guys who say are you willing to compromise? And I said yeah, the $2.5 trillion in spending restraint that we got out of the 2011 budget deal, grand bargain, was less than the $6 trillion in spending restraint we wanted in the Ryan plan. So Ryan’s budget which Republicans all voted for in the House and in the Senate, but didn’t pass, didn’t pass in the Senate, was $6 trillion in spending cuts. We settled for $2.5 trillion. That’s a compromise.
I am all in favor of compromising on the road to liberty. So if I want $2 in spending cuts and I can only get $1, that’s progress. It’s not treason. I have to talk to my conservative, right of center friends all the time. I say if we’re here in D.C. and we’re trying to go to California and we end up in Missouri, this isn’t treason. Missouri is on the way to California. But if your feet are wet and everyone around you is speaking French, you’re losing. That’s not compromising. You’re heading in the wrong direction.
So compromising, getting to a more free society slower than you’d like, that’s okay. But moving in the wrong direction, backing up, I guess the football players fall back to throw the ball forward, that’s not necessarily a good idea.
[Further down, we approached the pen for the Komodo Dragon.]
MR. SCHERER: Here’s the dragon.
MR. NORQUIST: Oh yes, oh, my goodness. Oh, for heaven’s sake.
SENATOR SIMPSON: Oh, my lord, look at that baby.
MR. NORQUIST: And that hole little thing is his ear?
SENATOR SIMPSON: They are big, aren’t they?
MR. NORQUIST: Did you see that movie, The Graduate or The Freshman where they try to eat the Komodo Dragon or pretend to eat one?
SENATOR SIMPSON: They tried to do what?
MR. NORQUIST: They pretend they’re going to eat a Komodo Dragon.
MR SCHERER: Matthew Broderick was in it.
MR. NORQUIST: Plays the freshman. There’s a mobster played by Superman’s dad, Marlin Brando.
SENATOR SIMPSON: I never saw that.
MR. NORQUIST: The whole thing is they’ve got a group that pays a lot of money to eat endangered animals for dinner and they tell them they’re going to feed them a Komodo Dragon, but they feed them chicken.
SENATOR SIMPSON: Tastes like chicken.
MR. NORQUIST: Everything tastes like chicken.
SENATOR SIMPSON: Remember Adolph Green, Betty Comdon and Adolph Green, he was a great comedian. They did a show together. He’s at a play, a boring, horrible play. This guy in high drama said, I’ve been through life and I’ve tasted death. He got up and said, “Tastes like chicken?”
MR. NORQUIST: On the compromising stuff, you and I argued once before on the immigration issue.
SENATOR SIMPSON: Oh, we did. Did I lay that on you at that time that you were involved with the sticker that said “Put this in water and put it on your wrist”?
MR. NORQUIST: Oh, says the Simpson-Mazzoli little sticker, yes.
SENATOR SIMPSON: I thought about it every night, this son of a bitch.
MR. NORQUIST: I have some. I should have brought them for you.
SENATOR SIMPSON: I’ve been waiting for this opportunity. Let me tell you, I kept some of them.
MR. NORQUIST: Oh, good. I have a bunch.
SENATOR SIMPSON: Do you have a lot left over? Now what about going to retina scans and fingerprints. That’s where they’re headed now.
MR. NORQUIST: I know, I know. I’m not a big fan of that either. On the compromise, I actually have worked with the Gang of Eight characters. And that’s one where, I don’t know, there may be eight, ten moving parts on immigration reform. And we don’t have as much in the way of a guest worker program as I’d like, H1Bs —
SENATOR SIMPSON: That’s very important —
MR. NORQUIST: — as big as I’d like. STEM is not as big as I want. But everything in there is generally a step in the right direction.
SENATOR SIMPSON: The process you mean, the bringing them on and paying back taxes and —
MR. NORQUIST: Yeah, I think look, we make people wait. If you are arrested today for being here without papers, they send you home. You couldn’t reapply for ten years. That’s the penalty. Under the new rules, you can stay and work, but you can’t apply for citizenship or a green card for ten years. And you have to pay a fee. So it hardly strikes me amnesty if the penalty is stiffer than what you’d get otherwise. And you stay here and work, 10 million people. We want them working here. They make us younger. They make us — we’re the future and China isn’t and Japan isn’t because they can’t do immigration and we can.
I’m enthusiastic of something along the lines of what they look like they’re coming up to —
SENATOR SIMPSON: That’s interesting because those are the things — we didn’t use the word amnesty. We used legalization. That’s why we were able to move it and got three million people came out of the dark from 93 countries. That was the only good thing about the bill. It didn’t have any teeth because we couldn’t get a more secure identifier. What the hell is that?
MR. NORQUIST: That thing?
SENATOR SIMPSON: A gymnast or something.
MR. NORQUIST: The orangutans walk up that.
SENATOR SIMPSON: They do?
MR. NORQUIST: Yeah. They go from one side to the other. There you are, there’s one.
[Simpson and Norquist had spotted an orangutan moving on a wire crossing the walking path. Soon two others appeared.]
SENATOR SIMPSON: Oh, my God. Look at that.
MR. NORQUIST: Murder at the Rue Morgue.
SENATOR SIMPSON: Now that is — that’s built just for them. They look like those congressmen that say save us from ourselves, either party. Here you go.
MR. NORQUIST: Look at that, wow.
SENATOR SIMPSON: That is amazing.
MR. NORQUIST: Somehow they agree not to run for it.
SENATOR SIMPSON: Of course, it reminds me of every foul Tarzan joke I ever learned and they’re all bad. They can’t be repeated. Me, Jane. Me, Tarzan. Oh, no, the vine. Oh, where were we?
MR. NORQUIST: I don’t even know a single naughty Tarzan joke. Is there a book somewhere?
SENATOR SIMPSON: On Tarzan?
MR. NORQUIST: Yeah, I know no naughty Tarzan jokes. I’m not sure I know any Tarzan jokes. Limericks, I’ve heard, yes. Naughty limericks I know. None about Tarzan.
SENATOR SIMPSON: There was a maiden from Chichester who made the saints in their niches stir. One evening at matins their breasts clothed in white satin, she made the bishop of Chichester, britches stir. You can’t use that at the Rotary Club. Look at the little guy.
MR. NORQUIST: That’s the third one.
SENATOR SIMPSON: Look at that one. He’s a little hairy for God’s sake. Look at that.
MR. NORQUIST: And they each do it differently.
SENATOR SIMPSON: Isn’t that amazing. And there they’re coming down over there. I would have missed all that, I’ll tell you.
MR. NORQUIST: He needs to shave.
MR. SCHERER: So at this moment of levity, what happens if Grover has his way and there are no tax increases?
SENATOR SIMPSON: I don’t know, but at some point you’ve got a country that’s borrowing — I have to stay with my figures. I do math and not myth. We borrow $2 billion plus a day. Every buck we spend we borrow 40 cents. We owe $17.3 trillion. It’s going to $20 trillion because of the giveaway in January. And I just say that at some point in time there’s a tipping point. And the tipping point is very real and the people who have — who have loaned us a quarter of that stuff, half of it is public, half of it is private and half of the public is China.
The people say we love you, you’ve proven two things. You’re addicted to debt and you’ve got a (inaudible) Congress and we want more money for our money. At that point, inflation will kick up and interest rates will kick up and the guys who get screwed is the little guy that everybody talks about all day and all night. The money guys will always take care of themselves.
MR. NORQUIST: The alternative future, the one I’m working on is we get our Republican Senate to go with the Republican President in ’16 or ’20 because we’ll have the House until ’22, and then you pass the Ryan Plan. And if you pass the Ryan Plan, you block grant all the welfare programs, 185 means tested welfare programs, you block in the states, and you do Medicare reform. And that brings spending down without a tax increase, down to 16.5 percent.
SENATOR SIMPSON: How do you do that without a tax increase? Just have to go into the entitlements and do a tax reform.
MR. NORQUIST: Yes, yes.
SENATOR SIMPSON: Okay.
MR. NORQUIST: No, no, this is the Ryan Plan which is written down and can be passed with 51 Senators. It doesn’t require 60 votes or two thirds.
SENATOR SIMPSON: Don’t forget why Ryan is getting savaged is because he’s dealing with the mastodon in the kitchen which is healthcare.
MR. NORQUIST: Yes.
SENATOR SIMPSON: And when you rivet on that, you really piss off everybody, especially senior groups and the AARP and the rest of them, but he is honest. Erskine and I both agree, Erskine said I think this is one the finest, brightest, young men I’ve ever worked with on this Hill. But he gets ripped to shreds because he’s touching precious senior citizens and all the rest of the docs and the doc fixes and hospitals.
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.
MR. SCHERER: Sure.
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.
SENATOR SIMPSON: No, I’m just saying he would be irrelevant in two years and he may last longer than that. He’s a very persistent guy. But no, I just say he’s wandering the earth in his robes. I have said that. That he has a mysterious influence on people. Then he says it’s not me, it’s their constituents who they made the promise to. That’s a beautiful thing.
MR. NORQUIST: You got it, you got it.
SENATOR SIMPSON: He says it’s not me, I have no power.
MR. NORQUIST: The pledge is written to their constituents.
SENATOR SIMPSON: Pull out the Patriot Act and Grover, it says if you intimidate or coerce the Congress, you violate the Patriot Act. I haven’t pulled that one out yet. No need to go further with that. But anyway —
MR. NORQUIST: The good news is the pledge is to the people of their state and to the American people. It says it right on the pledge. And as a result people tend to keep it. In Virginia, some people broke their pledge and several of them just lost an election at the state legislative level.
SENATOR SIMPSON: What do you think of that? Why? Why did they lose?
MR. NORQUIST: People don’t like being fibbed to.
SENATOR SIMPSON: But they have to be energized first. Do you know that this man — I keep the pledge on my wall and this man violated — I didn’t know that. I didn’t know he had signed the damn thing. Well, he did. And now you’re supposed to energize yourself and go and destroy him in the name of his constituents. Well, it works. Works very well. And then he comes off without a single piece of blood on his hands, no shred.
. . .
MR. NORQUIST: Speaking gently to the American people to remind them that the guy over there is trying to steal their money.
SENATOR SIMPSON: He’s called a gentle, interaction with constituents, like a full-page ad. Here’s what herky jerky signed. Do you remember Jarvis? You must have gone to school on Jarvis?
MR. NORQUIST: Jarvis, oh yes. Howard Jarvis.
SENATOR SIMPSON: He asked me, I don’t know if he asked me to sign that when I was in a primary in ’78 and everybody in Wyoming said you better sign that. I had to go hunt him down in Afton, Wyoming. I never got over the feeling of going to see him because my opponent had already embraced what he was doing and other people said Jesus, you have no choice Well, I was a green pea. It was in ’78. And I went and sat with him and told him how conservative I was on that. Honestly, but I felt unclean and I signed up.
MR. NORQUIST: What was the issue he was working, (inaudible) or something else?
SENATOR SIMPSON: No, Jarvis was the guy from California who put in the thing about property tax which now is really kind of screwed up in California with regard to getting education money and so on. Because I think the lid is still on as to how much property tax. That was it. Do you remember? It was about your real estate.
MR. NORQUIST: It limited the tax rate and the assessments could only increase two percent a year.
SENATOR SIMPSON: That was right.
MR. NORQUIST: Florida does it better. They do — they don’t worry about assessments and rates. They just say the total bill can only increase 3 percent a year. You can jimmy it by changing the rates or the assessments and they just say the amount of money they charge.
SENATOR SIMPSON: The only thing about it, I was always asked to sign things about abortion and gay rights and I never did.
MR. NORQUIST: No, no, you should never do it. There’s only one pledge.
MR. SCHERER: And Grover, you must have approached him, right?
MR. NORQUIST: At some point, probably.
MR. SCHERER: Did he ever approach you to sign the pledge? He must have at some point, right?
SENATOR SIMPSON: His range is like an eagle’s wings. And you see the shadow over your campaign. Grover is out here again. His people, and you say oh, Jesus.
And he’s there, but I learned after Jarvis, I never felt comfortable, never did it again on anything and I’ve been accused — then you’re accused of being squishy. I say abortion is a terrible thing, but it’s a deeply intimate and personal decision. Gay/lesbian, we all have somebody we know or love who is gay or lesbian. And I think when you sign something before you’ve heard the debate or listened to anything or heard testimony, I think that’s a real mistake.
MR. NORQUIST: On many of those other issues, you’re right. On taxes, no.
SENATOR SIMPSON: Well, I believe I disagree on that. You wouldn’t —
MR. NORQUIST: You can be flexible on lots of issues.
MR. SCHERER: If it wasn’t for Grover, you think George H.W. Bush could have won reelection? You came after him pretty hard. A lot of the conservatives came after him pretty hard.
MR. NORQUIST: The American people came after him pretty hard.
MR. SCHERER: Over taxes, and that was a tax deal you were involved in.
MR. NORQUIST: He just won the Cold War, okay? He managed the collapse of the Soviet Union. He drove Iraq out of Kuwait without getting stuck occupying the place for a decade. He had a phenomenal record and he shot one bit hole in the belt, the tax hike, and he lost.
SENATOR SIMPSON: But you know how it happened, too.
MR. NORQUIST: The tax hike?
SENATOR SIMPSON: You know how it happened?
MR. NORQUIST: Which piece of it?
SENATOR SIMPSON: What Gingrich’s role was. Let me tell you this and Dole and I went all over the country telling this and boy, Newtie didn’t like it. Now you know Dole is a pretty calm guy.
MR. NORQUIST: Yeah.
SENATOR SIMPSON: Remember when Newtie rose to the top?
MR. NORQUIST: Yes.
SENATOR SIMPSON: Dole really came in, do you remember that? He said no, no, not this guy. Now this is the last two minutes. We go to Andrews Air Base. Republicans only, House and Senate, and they put together two-year budgeting. They put together a tax increase. They put together this, this, and this, all of it which would have been to dig us out of the biggest hole and there were House members there, Army, and they went and they said we need revenue. And they went to Bush and said guess what, we need revenue. And Bush said guess what, if I do that after “read my lips,” I’m history. And they said yeah, but we can get the votes to do it. Will you all take the pledge? Will you all join here at the edge of the cliff? Yes, yes, we will.
MR. NORQUIST: Including Gingrich?
SENATOR SIMPSON: Everybody, everybody. First, it went to the Senate. Dole said okay, guys, here it is. This is true reform of the government. And the vote was about 67 to 30 something. Democrats — it went to the House and Newtie got up and said when I was a member of the group, I voted for this package, but I’ve been thinking so hard. But as an individual member, now I’m going to vote against it. And he took with him to the glee of Stark and Berman and every other Democrat said man, this is the end of George. And boy, I watched Newt do that and let me tell you, none of us ever forgot what he did.
And go look at the roll call vote on that one. Every Democrat gleefully just voted for it and about 30 or 40 Republicans and down went Bush and then three weeks later, they passed a watered-down version which shouldn’t help America at all. Now that’s what happened. I never forgot it. Neither did Dole.
MR. NORQUIST: Yeah, because when he ran for President again, he signed the pledge.
SENATOR SIMPSON: The what?
MR. NORQUIST: When Dole ran for President the second time, he made the commitment on the pledge, but he didn’t in ’88 which CBS said was why he lost. He felt it was why he didn’t make it in New Hampshire.
SENATOR SIMPSON: Did he?
MR. NORQUIST: Yes. But he did take the pledge when he ran in ’96.
SENATOR SIMPSON: The Kool-Aid or the pledge?
MR. NORQUIST: The pledge.
At this point, we reached the lions, and the conversation continued for another half hour or so.
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