In Defense of Grover
Posted on November 28, 2012
I hate it when my friends get in fights.
I like Saxby Chambliss, Peter King, Lindsey Graham and Tom Coburn. I like them a lot and I would vote for every single one of them if I lived in their states or in King’s case, his district.
And I like Grover Norquist.
Grover is the President of Americans for Tax Reform, the country’s preeminent tax organization. He is the guy who came up with the famous (or infamous) pledge to not raise taxes.
Now, to be clear, I don’t like pledges for members of Congress. I think that if you are an elected member of Congress, you are elected for your ability to cognitively make the best decisions for all of your constituents, and you have to have the ability to use your vote to get the most things done. And sometimes you have to vote for big packages that contain good things and bad things. That is the legislative process.
If I were to run for Congress, I would never sign a pledge like that. Perhaps that is why I would never get elected, but you never know.
But I don’t begrudge Grover for his pledge. You don’t become the preeminent anti-tax crusader without having some weapons at your disposal. And the pledge is a great weapon.
And for many Republican members of Congress, that pledge has served them well. By signing it, they have been able to win primaries and get themselves elected to Congress.
And for the last couple decades, Grover’s group has been extraordinarily effective. Taxes have shrunk to an all-time low. As a percentage of GDP, tax receipts are around 14%, a historically miniscule amount. Poor people pay nothing in taxes, middle class people pay comparatively little in taxes, and rich people get away with murder.
In many ways, Grover has been too effective. Taxes aren’t the political issue they once were, because so many people pay so little.
Sadly, the biggest tax burden is felt by the folks who create the most jobs in this country: small businesses and retailers. But because nobody else feels the same kind of pain that is felt by these job creators, the political potency of taxes has faded.
That is why Republicans are now squirming a bit about Norquist’s anti-tax zealotry. They know that we will never, ever get close to balancing the budget without more tax revenue, but they also know that we can’t count on a growing economy to fill the entire void.
And they hear from their constituents, who are mostly from Red States that don’t have the high incomes of people in Blue states. And many of those constituents are all for those rich millionaires paying more of their fair share.
There is an easy solution to all of this. Wait for the Bush tax cuts to expire and then use that as an excuse to fundamentally reform the tax code.
Grover would be fine with a reformed tax code that would generate less revenue from a new budget baseline that includes the extra revenue from the expired Bush tax cuts.
And from the ensuing crisis, we might actually get entitlement reform.
Grover has been tremendously effective when it comes to limited taxes in this country. And for that he ought to be praised, not pilloried.
His job is to be inflexible. He is not a legislator. He is an activist.
He is not the maniacal evil-doer that some make him out to be. But he is extremely good at what he does.
I wish he would start a new organization: Americans for Entitlement Reform. That is one pledge I would sign with pleasure, because ultimately, entitlements are the one thing that will kill this country unless they are reformed.