The idea of a "grand bargain" on budget issues is a pipe dream that will probably stay beyond the reach of Congress for the next decade, says anti-tax-increase activist Grover Norquist.
Norquist told U.S. News editors and reporters that while there may be some relatively modest adjustments to current budget priorities, neither side has enough power to force action in a comprehensive way. Norquist compared majority Democrats in the Senate and majority Republicans in the House to evenly matched sumo wrestlers: Neither side can push the other "out of the ring," and the result is the status quo.
He said the grand bargain "is gone for 10 years" unless control of Congress changes in an election or unless the Democrats or Republicans make a major mistake that alienates the public.
Not that there's anything wrong with this status quo, Norquist argued. He said the current arrangement preserves most of the mandatory spending cuts approved in the recent past and also most of the tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush, and that's what many conservatives want. He said, "The American people are very happy with the sequester [mandatory spending cuts]. ... Republicans run very well on the sequester."
On Capitol Hill, House and Senate negotiators led by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., are trying to finalize a relatively small-scale agreement on taxes and spending for the next two years. It's unclear whether these efforts will be successful. But congressional leaders appear eager to avoid the kind of impasse that led to an embarrassing government shutdown two months ago.
More broadly, Norquist argued that the Republicans are actually doing well at the state level even though the GOP in Congress is unpopular, as are congressional Democrats. He said GOP governors and state legislators are getting things done, and the Republicans are in control in about half the states. But he conceded that the country is divided. Some states are Democratic and are heading in a different direction than conservative states on issues ranging from tax increases to labor laws, said Norquist, who is president of Americans for Tax Reform and an influential conservative strategist.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Facebook and Twitter.