Saturday, November 26, 2011
As a boy growing up in Massachusetts in the 1960s, Grover Norquist claims to have had a political epiphany. He thought Republicans should brand themselves as members of the party that would never raise taxes, much as Coca-Cola had stamped itself in the public mind as a trusted drink. At the time it was not a popular idea. “When I was 12, no one was particularly interested in my thoughts on how to restructure the modern Republican party,” he recalled this week.
They are now. Other than being voted class president at high school and to the board of the National Rifle Association, Mr Norquist has never held elected office. But some four decades later, the idea that germinated when he was a young man has a grip on Republicans in Washington and is at the heart of the country’s political gridlock. ...
In his telling, some of the most powerful Republicans now bend to his will. In the midst of the deficit committee’s sensitive deliberations, Mr Norquist divulged an exchange with Jon Kyl, the Arizona senator. He is one of the Senate’s big barons who is not easily pushed around. But after he made a marginally ambiguous statement about taxes, Mr Norquist jumped on the phone. Recounting the conversation “in the tone of a teacher scolding a second-grader”, according to Politico, the Washington website, Mr Norquist pressed Mr Kyl on tax rates. “And then,” he said, “[Kyl] went down on the floor, and he gave a colloquy about how we’re against any tax increases of any sort. Boom!”
Democrats are unanimous in charging that the debt-reduction supercommittee collapsed because Republicans refused to raise taxes. Apparently, Republicans are in the thrall of one Grover Norquist, the anti-tax campaigner, whom Sen. John Kerry called “the 13th member of this committee without being there.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid helpfully suggested “maybe they should impeach Grover Norquist.” With that, Norquist officially replaces the Koch brothers as the great malevolent manipulator that controls the republic by pulling unseen strings on behalf of the plutocracy....[W]hy does the myth of the Norquist-controlled anti-tax monolith persist? You might suggest cynicism and perversity. Let me offer a more benign explanation: thickheadedness — the inability to tell the difference between tax revenue and tax rates. In deficit reduction, all that matters is tax revenue. The holders of our national debt care not a whit what tax rates yield the money to pay them back. They care about the sum.
The Republican proposals raise revenue, despite lowering rates, by opening a gusher of new income for the Treasury in the form of loophole elimination. ... Raising revenue through tax reform is better than simply raising rates, which Democrats insist upon with near religious fervor. It is more economically efficient because it eliminates credits, carve-outs and deductions that grossly misallocate capital. And it is more fair because it is the rich who can afford not only the sharp lawyers and accountants who exploit loopholes but the lobbyists who create them in the first place.
Yet the Democrats, who flatter themselves as the party of fairness, are instead obsessed with raising tax rates on the rich as a sign of civic virtue.