The Most Dangerous Man In America
OK, not really. Or mostly not really. Except maybe in the fiscal sense. I’m talking about Grover Norquist. In the past quarter-century, he has probably done more to distort US fiscal policy than anyone. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a low-taxes policy. But when it’s wielded like a mace in all situations, it isn’t a policy, it’s a creed, and as we’re beginning to see now, those adherents who fail to strictly conform are branded apostates.
Since 1986, Norquist has reigned supreme as a no-tax-increase zealot, and signing the pledge to oppose any tax increase has become mandatory for any serious Republican office-seeker. Among other things, this has come to mean that there’s no longer such a thing as a temporary tax cut. Once a tax goes down, for whatever reason, it can’t go back up. The 2001 and 2003 tax cuts were “temporary”, with a supposed sunset of 2010.
Why the sunset? Because a permanent tax cut would have required 60 votes in the Senate, and the Republicans didn’t have that many. So they used a legislative mechanism that required only a simple majority and passed “temporary” tax cuts, that were never intended to be temporary. Their presumption was that as soon as they got 60 Republicans in the Senate, they would make the cuts permanent. That never happened. What also never happened was any decrease in spending.
As I’ve said many times before, Democrats are tax-and-spend; Republicans are spend-and-spend. So the hard, simple reality is that a decade of tax cuts were paid for with borrowed money, to be repaid by our children and grandchildren. President Obama and the Democrats don’t get off either – the 2% payroll tax cut is probably the biggest disagreement I’ve had with his policies. It was a poorly-played political move that yielded essentially no political benefits.
But back to Norquist – there are basically two ways to manage government budgets: revenues and spending. Sure, you can play around the edges with economic policy incentives, but what it really boils down to is revenues and spending. The essence of Democratic government is compromise, but thanks to Norquist and his single-issue political theology, the Republicans have set aside half the mechanism. Until, perhaps, now. We’re seeing just a hint of weakening in the ranks. Maybe. Norquist has vowed revenge against anyone who breaks ranks in any way, whether it’s on tax rates or deduction caps*.
No one, in Norquist’s America, can ever pay more in taxes than they do today. He exists in a world where spending cuts will somehow create all the deficit reduction we’ll need. And, of course, none of those cuts can come from defense, no matter how high military spending has grown. It’s a fantasy, and a dangerous one.
* – Once again today, I heard a Republican senator saying that he wouldn’t allow any increase in tax rates for the wealthy, because increasing tax rates would cause small businesses to cut jobs. But, he said, he would be willing to consider a cap on deductions, which would, of course, cause their tax bill to be higher. Somebody help me out here – do small business owners have one pot of money for paying taxes due to tax rates, which is also used to create jobs, and another pot to pay the tax bill resulting from lower deductions, which isn’t used for job creation? Because otherwise the “job creators” argument makes no sense.
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