Republicans have developed a cultish opposition to raising tax rates on the wealthy, consistently protecting over $1 trillion in tax breaks for corporate jets, hedge fund managers, horse breeders, etc. At the epicenter of this obstinacy is Americans For Tax Reform head Grover Norquist.
Shackling Republicans to his anti-tax pledge, Norquist is dictating to Republicans that they cannot close a single tax loophole or allow one tax cut to expire, not even to entice Democrats into agreeing to much larger spending cuts. As Matt Yglesias explains, “Norquist’s apparent veto-power over congressional Republicans” would require them to make billions in cuts that increase unemployment, slow economic growth, endanger children, undermine safety and health, and weaken the social safety net in order to satisfy his anti-tax demands.
But there may be one chink in the Norquistian armor. The Washington Post editorial board reported this morning that Norquist himself stated that allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire in 2012 would not technically violate his pledge as “not continuing a tax cut is not technically a tax increase”:
Would allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire as scheduled in 2012 violate this vow? We posed this question to Grover Norquist, its author and enforcer, and his answer was both surprising and encouraging: No.
In other words, according to Mr. Norquist’s interpretation of the Americans for Tax Reform pledge, lawmakers have the technical leeway to bring in as much as $4 trillion in new tax revenue — the cost of extending President George W. Bush’s tax cuts for another decade — without being accused of breaking their promise. “Not continuing a tax cut is not technically a tax increase,” Mr. Norquist told us. So it doesn’t violate the pledge? “We wouldn’t hold it that way,” he said.
Now, Norquist is quickly trying to walk back that statement, declaring that “any failure to extend or make permanent the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, in whole or in part, would clearly increase taxes on the American people.” However, even while reaffirming this principle on MSNBC this morning, Norquist stated again that there are technical ways to allow the tax cuts to expire that “and not violate the pledge.” Watch it:
Even Norquist’s own organization has maintained that position. Just a few weeks ago, in response to a question from the Washington Examiner’s Kevin Glass and ThinkProgress, ATR’s official Twitter account confirmed that allowing taxes to rise because of inaction on an expiring tax cut does not violate the organization’s pledge. It explained that “The Pledge is based on current law. If current law has a tax cut expire, that is not a Pledge violation”:
Norquist undoubtedly did not expect his own pledge to undermine his intentions and will certainly endeavor to walk back this inconvenient truth. But unfortunately for ATR, facts — like Norquist — are stubborn things.
The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent reports that his colleague, reporter Karen Tumulty, was present at the Norquist interview and confirmed that he “did make the controversial concession.” “The very specific question was, ‘Would that be regarded as a vilation of the pledge?’” Tumulty told Sargent. “What he said is that it’s not a violation of the pledge. We were surprised, so he was pressed on it. He repeated it several times.”