Grover Norquist defended the effectiveness of his anti-tax pledge, and predicted it will help Republicans retain control of the House of Representatives for the next decade, during a forum at the American Enterprise Institute on Tuesday. In a debate against fellow conservative Ross Douthat, an op-ed columnist at the New York Times, he said the 25-year-old, one-sentence pledge signed by politicians offers "credibility" to anti-tax promises.
"I would argue that it's put the Republican Party within striking distance of getting exactly the kind of control you need," Norquist says. "The Republican Party will run the House for the next decade because of their no-tax-increase position."
But Douthat argues it is not enough for Republicans to just win elections if they don't rein in spending as well as hold the line on taxes.
"Grover makes an excellent case for its political effectiveness, and I think it clearly has contributed to short-term tax rates being somewhat lower than they otherwise would," Douthat says. "But the American taxpayer is not only liable for his tax bill today, but for the obligations his government incurred yesterday, incurs today, and is projected to incur tomorrow."
Though faced with a daunting federal deficit and an electorate eager to balance the books, President Obama and a divided Congress have struggled to strike a deal addressing the issue. Many Democrats and even some Republicans have pointed directly at Norquist and the political power of his pledge as the major roadblock to negotiations. Democrats claim they are willing to make cuts to entitlement programs, but only if Republicans also give some ground on increasing taxes on the wealthy. Republicans have resisted such proposals.
Norquist touts the effectiveness the pledge has had on state-level spending. There, he says, pledge-taking governors and legislatures have faced down the economic recession by making cuts and not raising taxes.
"As long as taxes are on the table even a little bit, the Democrats look at the tax possibility. Tax increases are what politicians do rather than govern," he says. "The idea that the tax pledge doesn't solve all the world's problems and doesn't also solve the spending problem is, OK, an interesting one, but without a pledge, without the commitment not to raise taxes, you never have the conversation about spending restraint."
But an important distinction to make is that all but a handful of states have constitutional requirements to balance their budgets and the U.S. government does not; something that at the federal level has created the dynamic of taxpayers wanting to eat their cake and not pay for it, too, Douthat argues.
"By making low taxes alone, rather than smaller government in general, the defining litmus test for conservatism, the pledge has encouraged this climate and created the climate that exists today: a government we can't afford and a public that is conditioned to believe they can have the huge entitlements without necessarily paying for it," he says.
For Norquist, though, the equation is simple.
"Had Republicans sat down and cooperated with Obama in having only 70 percent socialism on government-run healthcare in return for putting fingerprints on a tax increase, the Republicans would not have won in 2010, he says. "The pledge has helped people communicate accurately to the American people where they are on taxes and has changed the nature of the Republican Party and the success of the modern Republican Party."
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