Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist — who said last month that he would not approve of tax increases even in the case of war, natural disaster or “beard flu” — has come under fire over the last year from Republican lawmakers who signed his pledge requiring them to oppose all new taxes. Lawmakers have slammed the Norquist pledge as “disingenuous and irresponsible,” saying it “restrains your ability to think creatively” and takes away the “flexibility to do the right thing for the American people.”
On The Daily Show last night, host Jon Stewart asked Norquist if former President Ronald Reagan should be admonished for his tax-increasing ways. Reagan, after all, was a serial tax-raiser both as governor of California and later as president. But Norquist refused to criticize Reagan, laughably excusing the tax increases because Reagan “hadn’t signed the pledge”:
STEWART: I mean, Reagan raised taxes, I don’t know, seven times, eight times?
NORQUIST: And George Washington lost the Battle of New York. It wasn’t on purpose. Reagan didn’t want to raise taxes.
STEWART: Wait, Reagan didn’t want to raise taxes, but he did it eight times?
NORQUIST: He had a Congress with whom he raised taxes a number of times. […] The ’82 tax increase, which was the large one, he said was the biggest mistake of his presidency because of course remember he was promised, ‘Oh, if you raise taxes we’ll give you three dollars of spending cuts.’
STEWART: But then he kept raising them. ’82, ’83, ’85, I have a whole list here. So, would you have run somebody against him?
STEWART: Why not?
NORQUIST: One, he hadn’t signed the pledge.
Watch it (at 3:10):
The 1982 tax increase Norquist is excusing was the largest peacetime tax increase in American history, and calling it the “biggest mistake” of the Reagan presidency requires ignoring the fact that it was immediately followed by “exceptionally strong” economic growth and falling unemployment. And if the 1982 increase was Reagan’s biggest mistake, he didn’t show much contrition during the rest of his presidency — he went on to raise taxes in seven of his eight years in office.