Reports of Republican lawmakers abandoning the party's long-held position against tax hikes have been greatly exaggerated, according to one of the nation's most influential conservative voices.
Not only is the GOP not going to agree to new or higher taxes without simultaneous spending cuts, but the tea party, which in the last two years has sent a number of establishment Republicans into retirement, is poised to have an even bigger impact on American politics in the 2014 midterm elections. This, according to Grover Norquist, is simply the way it is.
With concerns about the fiscal cliff -- the combination of tax increases and government spending cuts that could go into effect at the start of next year -- dominating the headlines, President Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner have been leading the argument that higher taxes on the richest U.S. citizens is one of the keys to reaching a compromise that would avoid the cliff.
Both parties have acknowledged their concerns that if a deal doesn't get done, the country could see a steep economic downturn in 2013. However, reports have emerged in recent days that members of the Republican camp could be open to giving the White House more tax dollars if it meant reaching an agreement. Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, isn't buying it. Going back to the 1980s, Norquist has gotten GOP legislators to sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, guaranteeing they would oppose tax increases. He says Republicans will abide by the pledge even if a small number of them are having "impure thoughts."
"Interestingly, this is a replay of what happened two years when the press was focused on a handful of Republican senators who were thinking about raising taxes as part of the debt ceiling deal," Norquist says in the attached video. "Obama, hearing about that, dropped his negotiations wth [House Speaker John] Boehner, upped his demands, and the whole negotiations fell apart. And from my perspective, things went swimmingly, because we got all spending cuts and no tax increases."
However, partly as a result of the debt-ceiling struggles, the U.S. did lose its triple-A rating at Standard & Poor's. Asked whether similar doubts about the nation's financial position make the need for a pact more pressing this time around, Norquist says tax increases can't be the way to get it done.
"Raising taxes instead of reigning in spending is bad for our long-term political and economic health," he says.
What's being overlooked, he says, is that the Republicans who have been discussing tax increases, names like South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, have done it before. In addition, the same members of the GOP expect spending cuts to join any higher taxes, and because of these conditions "they're not on the same planet as Barack Obama."
In other words, he's not remotely worried about a large number of Republicans getting on board with new or raised taxes. If the president believes he's getting converts, Norquist would disagree, saying "he's misreading those trail balloons as if they're a rebellion."
"It's a false courage that [President Obama] has thinking that he can roll the Republicans on this issue, which is why I fear that he's going to drive the country over the cliff," Norquist says.
For more than two decades, Norquist and his organization have been integral to helping shape Republican tax policy, but he says the promise to keep hikes off the table isn't about him.
"The pledge that many congressmen and senators have made to their constituents is not to me," he says. "It's directly to their voters in their state that they'll vote against tax increases." And he expects at the end of the day, that will remain the case.
"Those folks in the White House or in the establishment media who think the modern Republican party is filled with people who are just lusting after the opportunity to vote for a tax increase if only Grover Norquist wouldn't slap their hands when they tried to do it, I think are imagining things," he says. "There is no rush to raise taxes. There's nobody demanding to raise taxes."
Meanwhile, Norquist also predicts that tea party, which gathered strength in 2010, in part because of opposition to expanded federal spending, is about to make a second, even stronger, appearance on the national stage. The first round was about too much spending, whereas the next will be about expenditures, too many taxes and too much regulation, and include more members of the business community, he expects.
"It will look much like the reaction to the failed Carter administration," he says. "It's going to be bigger in 2014 [and] will be more devastating to the Democrats than 2010 was"
For more from Norquist, watch the accompanying video, where you can also hear what he has to say about what President Ronald Reagan called the biggest mistake of his presidency.
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