Wednesday, November 28, 2012
The Idiocy of Grover Norquist...and Why the GOP Is Right to Abandon Him
When economics become a religion, we should all be concerned. Few moral issues are black and white, but clear cut cases do exist - I think that we would all agree that rape is always immoral (most of us wouldn't even quibble over whether or not it is "legitimate" rape), so is child pornography and infanticide. But in economics, decisions are rarely clear cut - they invariably involve complex trade-offs. Most of us would agree that free markets are generally more efficient than government control - but few of us would want to leave national defense, police work or workplace safety up to the private market.
So when people start treating economic concepts like religion - on either the right or the left, be very worried. Grover Norquist has been an economic theologist for a long time. Norquist has never worked in the real world - he has worked for lobbying groups, been a speechwriter and, most famously, founded "Americans for Tax Reform", a group essentially dedicated to a singular concept - that taxes should never go up - under any circumstances. Norquist's lack of practical experience isn't, in and of itself, worthy of dismissing all of his ideas - many great thinkers spent their careers in either academia or the political sphere. But it does help to explain his black and white view of a decidedly gray world.
Norquist's crowning achievement is his "Taxypayer Protection Pledge", which has been signed by 219 House Republicans and over 39 Republican Senators (no current Democrats have signed the pledge.) The pledge states, simply, that an elected official will "oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate for individuals and business; and to oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates."
This pledge is pretty on its face absurd. Think about this hypothetical situation: a massive economic crisis happens and Congress, whether wise or stupid, decides to eliminate all taxes for 1 year and finance the government solely on debt. Under the terms of Norquist's pledge, taxes would have to stay at zero, otherwise you would be supporting an "effort to increase the marginal tax rate for individuals and businesses".
But maybe the pledge doesn't apply to TEMPORARY tax cuts, you might say. But that's exactly what we are talking about in the current fiscal cliff debates - tax cuts that were made on a temporary basis in 2003 and extended on a temporary basis in 2010. The Bush/Obama tax cuts were never passed into law as permanent cuts.
Norquist says the government has a spending problem and he is clearly right. But it also has a revenue problem - the federal cut of US GDP has never been lower in the past 60 years - and 60 years ago we didn't have Medicare, Medicaid, Homeland Security, the EPA, OSHA or a whole lot of other things that we take for granted as basic functions of government these days.
Norquist's pledge is absurd - and he has no standing to "require" Republicans to adhere to it - he isn't a government official and doesn't directly represent anyone other than himself. Yet, for too long, GOP candidates bought into Norquist's nonsense lock, stock and barrel.
Republicans have started backing away from the pledge. Lindsey Graham, Saxby Chambliss, Peter King and Tom Cole have all more or less disavowed the pledge. They are right to. Hopefully more courageous members of the Republican party will abandon the religious lunacy and join the real conversation as to how we put our budgetary house in order.