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Posted by on Nov 28, 2012 in Featured, Guest Contributor, Politics | 21 comments

The Most Dangerous Man In America

John Darkow, Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri

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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  • sheknows

    The job creator argument never did make any sense! And who is Grover Norquist anyway?? He is a lobbyist with WAY too much influence.
    Why Reublicans allow him to dictate what they should do is crazy!! His day of glory is passed…or SHOULD be. This is no longer the 80″s. These are new times with new economic problems. He is a one hit wonder that people are tired of listening to after 25 years. Time for Reps to think for themselves, wake up and smell the coffee of a new party and a different approach.

  • Great post Harry

  • tnorth12

    sheknows, I’m curious how “the job creator argument” could not make any sense to you. Isn’t it obvious that reducing the amount of cash a business owner has at then end of each month also reduces the likelihood of risking a new hire?

    The discussion shouldn’t be about rates at all but about removing the tax breaks and write-offs that are exploited by the fat cats and politically connected. For years, Paul Ryan has been pushing a tax reform proposal that would simplify the tax code and ensure that those in tax bracket X actually pay something close to X when all is said and done.

    Obama’s “tax the rich” plan makes great sense for the uninformed masses. Look at any organization’s numbers and they ALL agree that Obama’s plan will bring in less than 5% of ongoing trillion dollar plus deficits. Clearly soaking the rich won’t get us close to a balanced budget.

    Spending absolutely MUST be reduced or we will face another credit downgrade in Q1 2013 and our ability to borrow at low rates is in real trouble. Once we begin sliding down that slope, our debt service becomes impossible and it’s welcome to Greece.

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  • zephyr

    The republican cult of Grover Norquist is long overdue for deprogramming.

  • Norquist’s problem is he only required no tax increases. He never said anything about balancing that with spending. So borrowing from the future became acceptable, and that’s just what the GOP did.

    We need a balanced budget ammendment of some type. Our taxes need to go up every time a new program goes in place. We need to feel the instant ramifications of every decision our Congress makes.

    Because of all the borrowing, the people have forgotten what cause-and-effect means, and thereby thinks all sorts of stuff cn be “free”.

  • I’m not in favor of abolishing [Norquist]. I just want to shrink [his influence] down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.

  • zusa1

    Barky, I agree with you, but both parties are equal opportunity spenders, unfortunately. People complain about a do nothing divided government. It seems to me the most damage occurs with one party in power….they get too much done and self restraint goes out the window.
    Norquist seriously underestimated our tolerance for debt. Liberals hate the tea party, but didn’t the GOP need a force to drag them back into fiscal responsibility terrain?

  • zusai, I don’t think it’s that he underestimated our tolerance for debt. I think he underestimated the American peoples’ intolerance for people like him who increase partisanship and political intransigence. And for what it’s worth, despite not considering myself a liberal, the Tea Party was BRIEFLY a great force for fiscal responsibility when it was actually about the debt and not a grass-roots holding-cell (financed by GOP heavyweights) for every far-right conspiracy-theory loony. I don’t believe, as I suspect is the case for many others, that the debt is OK or even tolerable, but handing the scalpel over to someone who actually believes Obama is a socialist or communist wouldn’t be my first move.

    What’s good is that we ARE having a conversation about the debt and about what needs to be and should be cut, but perhaps we’ve already reached the balance between the government we want and the taxes we need to keep it. Most people feel government is too big but when you start suggesting things to cut, you get blowback from every direction because everyone has pet-causes.

    My point: Politicians need to be comfortable making the tough choices, even if it means losing re-election in the following round. Those are people I would consider statesmen.

  • Jim Satterfield

    A balanced budget is not, in fact, the most vital thing we need. Reducing the level of debt to something more manageable is quite adequate. In the real world both businesses and families, the favorite bad analogies of those pushing for a balanced budget amendment, almost always have debt. Look what happened to business when credit was virtually non-existent at the beginning of the big crash. Families don’t, as a general rule, pay cash for their cars and houses.

  • zusa1

    steadystate. I agree there are some tea party whacks I wouldn’t want in office. Hopefully, if the GOP can get back to it’s fiscal responsibility roots, the call for a tea party being needed will fade.

  • SteveK

    the GOP can get back to it’s fiscal responsibility roots

    The GOP’s WHAT?

  • “Barky, I agree with you, but both parties are equal opportunity spenders, unfortunately.”

    Agreed. I was just pointing out there is GOP hypocrisy with this pledge, where some Republicans who signed it also allowed higher spending. It should have been a “no new spending” pledge instead of a “no new taxes” pledge.

  • ShannonLeee

    uugg… another USA = Greece comparison. The two arent even close so people really need to stop comparing the two.

    Norquist is not the problem. The problem are the politicians that have been led by a non-elected official. The man holds NO OFFICE. Yet Republicans have been bowing to the great Norquist for far too long.

  • “A balanced budget is not, in fact, the most vital thing we need. Reducing the level of debt to something more manageable is quite adequate. In the real world both businesses and families, the favorite bad analogies of those pushing for a balanced budget amendment, almost always have debt. Look what happened to business when credit was virtually non-existent at the beginning of the big crash. Families don’t, as a general rule, pay cash for their cars and houses.

    But there’s good debt and bad debt, and short-term debt vs. long-term debt.

    Businesses “float” expenses using short-term debts all the time. There are analogies in government, sure, but that’s not the issue.

    Good debt — borrowing to pay for large capital expenditures such as houses or cars for families, or bridges and levees for governments — is fine as well.

    But bad debt — putting vacations & fine dining on credits cards, or the U.S. government annual budget being nearly 40% on borrowed money — is ludicrous and damaging. THAT’s the stuff that needs to be controlled.

    Sure, some of that 40% is debt in infrastructure, but most of it is absolutely not.

  • zusa1

    Barky, there is so little thought put into how money is spent with either non existent or idiotic metrics to measure success (maybe I shouldn’t even assume there are stated goals to measure against). How about cash for clunkers? A massive destruction of wealth program that was rushed into, with politicians bragging about its success based on its popularity.

  • As far as seeing Republicans return to sanity, or fiscal responsibility roots, or whatever you want to call it – a side effect of the Norquistian trance they’ve been in is that the moderate wing of the Republican has been eviscerated, not just in Congress but downstream. So where they’ll find candidates to steer them back towards the center is a mystery to me.

  • zusa1

    Harry, you make a good point, but in general, maybe the voters like the idea of a moderate (or maybe voters only like moderates of the opposing party?), but the leaders/whips of either party certainly don’t.

  • zephyr

    the moderate wing of the Republican has been eviscerated

    Exactly. And there is no democrat equivalent to this. In fact democrats have been steadily moving to the center while republicans have been moving further to the right. You want to see an actual liberal? Take a look at LBJ. All this talk of either or both is just nonsense.

    The GOP’s WHAT?


  • zusa1

    zephyr, One of the things that has become apparent to me participating on this blog is that center is right next to the eye of the beholder.

  • zephyr

    zusai, one of the things that has become apparent to me participating on the blog is that some people imagine the center can be endlessly elastic and still be called the center. You shouldn’t be surprised to see I don’t subscribe to that view.

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