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Norquist Losing Anti-Tax Stranglehold on Republican Members of Congress

CONTACT:  Sean Crowley, 202-550-6524-c, scrowley@americansfortaxfairness.org

Norquist Losing Anti-Tax Stranglehold on Republican Members of Congress 

Loss of Power Means Bipartisan Deal to Raise Revenues Now Possible 

(Washington, D.C. – November 20, 2012) Growing Republican defections from Grover Norquist’s extreme pledge never to raise taxes under any circumstances means it’s now possible to reach a bipartisan deal to raise revenues from the wealthy to prevent major cuts to education, Medicare and other services, and to reduce the deficit.

“Every day you see stories about Grover Norquist losing his stranglehold on Republicans who have signed his pledge never to raise taxes under any circumstances, but now they are running away from it,” said Frank Clemente, campaign manager for Americans for Tax Fairness.

At least 55 Republican House incumbents or candidates — and 24 Republican Senators or hopefuls who signed the pledge — lost on Election Day, and influential Republican senators like Tom Coburn, Lindsey Graham and John McCain have publicly rejected it,” added Clemente. “That opens the door to Congress reaching a bipartisan deal to end the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2 percent.”

“There have been numerous stories since the election about Norquist losing his vice grip on Republicans,” concluded Clemente. “Savvy Republicans know that voters rejected the Norquist doctrine and they can read the polls. Americans want Congress to reduce the deficit by raising revenues from the wealthy few, so they start paying their fair share, not by cutting programs that lower- and middle-income Americans depend on, including education, Medicare and Medicaid.”

Nearly two out of three voters (64 percent) disapprove of raising the age for Medicare eligibility from 65 percent to 67 percent, and nearly four out of five voters (78%) oppose cuts to Medicaid benefits, according to a post-election poll conducted by Hart Research Associates on behalf of Americans for Tax Fairness.

More than two out of three voters (68%) unfavorably view “members of Congress” who have signed a pledge that “includes a promise that they will never vote to make the very wealthy and corporations pay a penny more in taxes, even by eliminating special tax breaks or loopholes,” according to a Junepoll by Hart Research Associates on behalf of Americans for Tax Fairness.  This group includes nearly nine of out 10 Democrats (89%), nearly three out of four Independents (73%) and nearly half of Republicans (43%).

Below are excerpts of three stories since yesterday citing Norquist’s waning influence with Republicans.

Grover Norquist’s rear-guard action on taxes

Washington Post, Dana Milbank, 11/19/2012

Just a few months ago, he [Norquist] predicted to me with confidence that his goals of the past quarter-century were about to be realized: Mitt Romney would win the presidency, Republicans would seize the Senate, and the unified Republican government would quickly pass Paul Ryan’s budget, including a complete reworking of entitlement programs.

But instead of laying siege to Washington, he is now leading a rear-guard action to prevent defections. His defense of the Pledge seems to be a mixture of improbable optimism (he maintained that Republicans are “much closer” to smaller government than before) and implied threats (“Republicans who raise taxes do their own brand a great deal of damage, particularly if they put in writing to their constituents that’s not who they are or what they do”).

For Tax Pledge and Its Author, a Test of Time

New York Times, Jeremy W. Peters, 11/19/2012

By Mr. Norquist’s count, 219 House members — enough for a majority — and 39 senators have committed to the pledge. But some of those members who signed on, many of them years ago, have started to back away, apparently leaving him several votes shy of the majority he would need to block any tax increase.

“A pledge is good at the time you sign it,” said Representative Peter T. King, a New York Republican whose name still appears as a pledge signer on the Web site of Mr. Norquist’s group, Americans for Tax Reform. “In 1941, I would have voted to declare war on Japan. But each Congress is a new Congress. And I don’t think you can have a rule that you’re never going to raise taxes or that you’re never going to lower taxes. I don’t want to rule anything out.”

….Ask Republicans in Congress today what they think of the pledge, and many of them say that while they still subscribe to a low-tax view of government, they resent being hamstrung by a piece of paper they signed well before they were elected. Some of them are even saying they want out.

Voters express strong support for Medicare and Social Security and for raising taxes on the affluent, Democrats note. Over all, federal tax revenue has taken up a smaller share of gross domestic product in the last few years than at any point since the 1950s. 

The New Republican Tax Policy

The New York Times, Bruce Bartlett, 11/20/2012

During the Obama administration, the principal enforcer of that doctrine among Republicans is the anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist. He continually argues against tax increases because they feed the beast and lead to higher spending. As he put it in an Op-Ed page column last year in The New York Times, “Raising taxes is what politicians do instead of reforming and reducing the cost of government.”

The late economist William Niskanen of the Cato Institute was another pioneer on the right in recognizing the perversity of starve-the-beast theory. His work has been revived by The Weekly Standard’s Andrew Ferguson in a new article for the conservative magazine. This is significant because The Standard often sets the agenda for Republicans. This article may signal a change in thinking about whether tax increases may be a better way of starving the beast than tax cuts.

At the risk of reading the tea leaves too closely, I think Mr. Ferguson’s article needs to be read in conjunction with comments made by The Standard’s editor William Kristol on “Fox News Sunday” on Nov. 11. Said Mr. Kristol: “You know what? It won’t kill the country if we raise taxes a little bit on millionaires. It really won’t, I don’t think.”

Mr. Kristol is not a fool and can read the polls as easily as I can; he knows Republicans are holding a losing hand on taxes. A Nov. 14 Gallup poll shows the percentage of Americans favoring a spending-cuts-only approach to the deficit has fallen in half, to 10 percent from 20 percent last year; the percentage willing to accept higher taxes to reduce the deficit has risen to 86 percent from 73 percent.

Taxes are going to rise; that is no longer in doubt….Starve-the-beast is dead.

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Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) is a diverse campaign of over 225 national, state, and local organizations united in support of a tax system that works for all Americans. It has come together based on the belief that the country needs comprehensive, progressive tax reform that results in greater revenue to meet our growing needs. This starts by ending the Bush-era tax breaks for the richest 2 percent and by making critical investments that create and sustain jobs while taking a balanced approach to addressing America’s fiscal challenges.