Ernest Luning’s report on a recent deficit cutting confab in Colorado hosted by the state’s two Democratic Senators offers a window into the problems would-be spending cutters are having with anti-tax activist Grover Norquist:
[Alan] Simpson said he confronted anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist when the commission met and they exchanged words over the legacy of Ronald Reagan, claimed by both as their personal hero. When Reagan was president, he raised taxes 11 times, Simpson said, a bit of history that made Norquist squirm.
“I knew Ronald Reagan and you, Grover, are no Ronald Reagan,” Simpson said he told the president of Americans for Tax Reform, who famously said his goal was to make government small enough it could be drowned in a bathtub. Reagan didn’t raise taxes to give Norquist something to complain about, Simpson said. “He probably did it to make the country run.”
I’m not sure if Norquist understands this or not, but in the current moment of institutional weakness for American liberalism, he’s the most powerful advocate we have. At the end of the day, the long-term level of taxation is determined by the level of money that’s spent. Every dollar the federal government spends will be repaid, with interest, out of taxes. And currently in Washington we have lots and lots of Democrats—from Barack Obama to Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet—arguing for reductions in scheduled spending. And the main thing standing in their way is Grover Norquist, his tax pledge, and his insistence that no Republican vote for any spending cutting bill that also includes some increases in revenue. So far, that’s denying cuts-oriented Democrats the working legislative majority they need to implement their agenda, and giving congress’ small number of hard-core progressives the ability to veto cuts in Social Security.
In the present circumstances with interest rates and inflation low and unemployment high, frankly I thank him for his invaluable efforts. But it’s a strange thing for a nominal conservative to be doing.