As (largely untrue) reports fly through the blogosphere and interwebs about reports of movement between the Congressional political blocs on various aspects of the impending ‘fiscal cliff’ crisis, the man at the center of it all, Grover Norquist is certainly having his moments in the spotlight.
Steve Inskeep of NPR gave Norquist air time this morning to prattle on about how it really isn’t true that Republicans are lining up to jump ship and break their pledges not to raise taxes. He likened talk of accepting tax increases in exchange for spending cuts by Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to believing in a pink unicorn. Money quote:
It’s like imagining a “pink unicorn,” Norquist said. “If you had a pink unicorn, how many dollars in taxes would you raise to trade for the pink unicorn? Since pink unicorns do not exist in the real world, it’s never occurred to me to worry about the senator from South Carolina. He’s not going to vote for a deal because the kind of 10-1 ratio deal he’s talking about with real, iron-clad spending cuts is never going to happen.”
Norquist’s finances are the subject of an investigative piece at the Nation.com. Reporter Lee Fang dug through all the financial reports (2010 was the most recent year available) and discovered that the little guys’ tax advocate is actually mostly funded by two billionaire backed groups.
The Center to Protect Patients Rights ($4,189,000, mostly the Koch brothers) and Crossroads GPS ($4,000,000, Karl Rove’s group) contributed 66% of Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform budget in that year. Money (pun intended) quote:
Grover Norquist’s iron grip over much of the Republican Party is somewhat puzzling. Why should Senators and other lawmakers listen to a guy caught laundering money for Jack Abramoff?
But consider Norquist’s tax pledge and political power another way: that he’s just a proxy for the powerful interest groups that finance him. In the nineties, it was big tobacco that used Norquist’s tax pledge as a cover to lobby lawmakers against cigarette taxes (Norquist still uses an e-mail system donated to him by Altria to send out Tea Party action alerts against tobacco taxes). Now, big PhRMA and other industry groups provide grants to Norquist while his foundation endorses other giveaways, like protectionist support against importing cheaper drugs from Canada and the classification of tax subsidies to refineries as “tax cuts” that must not be cut.
Over at the Washington Post, reliably liberal Ezra Klein has an article up postulating a contrarian viewpoint on Norquist’s moment in the spotlight:
Amidst the liberal glee over the demise of Norquist’s anti-tax pledge, it’s worth being clear about something: Norquist is winning. Big time. It’s this moment, the death of his pledge’s mostly unblemished record, that he’s been working toward all these years.
Don’t take Norquist’s pledge at face value. It’s an absurdity. From a budgetary standpoint, it’s an obscenity. And everyone — Norquist included, because he is very, very smart — knew it would eventually fall. It’s how it falls that matters. And right now, it’s falling exactly according to plan.
For decades now, Norquist has asked lawmakers to pledge to oppose any and all taxes. That’s a ridiculous pledge. Ronald Reagan, a president Norquist considers such a conservative inspiration that he’s embarked on a quest to name every airport and park bench in the country after him, raised taxes time and time again.
I think Klein’s wrong. Norquist might not be as saavy as people think. If the issue of taxes becomes an issue of patriotism, a stance now gaining favor as massive defense cuts triggered by sequestration are a possibility, then I interpret that as a sign the pendulum has finally begun to swing back towards sanity on this issue.
I know this will shock many of my readers, but I’m going to offer up Steve Breen’s editorial cartoon in today’s UT-SD as evidence. Norquist is depicted facing an earnest Uncle Sam, who’s asking him to sign a pledge that says “I promise to stop acting like a big, pigheaded bully.” (We’ll conveniently ignore the rest of the content surrounding the cartoon for the moment.)
Like the headline says, “A ray of hope”.
This is a portion of Doug Porter’s daily column at San Diego Free Press, “The Starting Line”.