Despite reports that members of the Republican Party are turning their backs on tax reformer Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, as Democrats and news anchors question if he is losing influence on Capitol Hill, it does not seem Norquist is shaken up any by the daily attacks over his organization’s taxpayer pledge, which is signed by 258 members of Congress.
Well aware that he is the liberal target of the news cycle ala Alinsky rule number 12(“Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it”), Mr. Norquist seems unfazed by it all, and if anything, enjoys the attention.
“One. They sort of chose poorly, because I don’t really care. I’m not gonna crack or step back or something. I don’t know what they think I’m supposed to do. ‘Ahhh, we call you names.’ Good,” Norquist told me on Wednesday.
“Two. Everybody gets the joke. That this is not about me. This is about not raising taxes and reducing spending, so the fact that they can only sort of point to five or six Republican Congressmen who get discombobulated when somebody says to Peter King, ‘So do you do what Grover tells you to?’ and he gets defensive. Nobody else gets defensive, because the answer is ‘no.’”
Rep. Peter King, New York Republican, appeared on cable news and said, “A pledge you signed 20 years ago, 18 years ago, is for that Congress. For instance, if I were in Congress in 1941,” he said. “I would have signed a … declaration of war against Japan. I’m not going to attack Japan today.”
Mr. Norquist believes Rep. King was reaching for an answer when the congressman was initially asked about the ATR pledge.
“Peter King was on TV mostly talking about Benghazi, and he gets asked this question,” said Norquist. “Well, he doesn’t know. He just wings it, which is not a good idea. And so he says something kind of stupid. ‘Oh pledges have shelf lives.’ No they don’t. He knows that. But he was just grabbing for something.”
“(Congressman)LaTourette said something once about the pledge not lasting forever. Yeah he did. We laughed him off the planet. He was talking out of his ear.” Retiring Rep. Steve La Tourette, Ohio Republican, once called Norquist views on taxes “crap.”
“I’m not sure (King) meant to come across goofy, but I think it is important, for the taxpayer movement, he makes it clear that he knows perfectly well that what he signed he signed was for as long as he is in Congress,” explained Mr. Norquist.
Rep. King is not backing down and recently told Politico that his wife could ‘knock Grover Norquist’s head off.’:
Norquist had suggested in an interview earlier in the week that King’s willingness to abandon a “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” should worry Rosemary King – a jab that King thought crossed the line. He told Newsday that Norquist was “being a lowlife” by bringing up the Kings’ marriage.
Mr. Norquist immediately responded to me on Thursday afternoon to Rep. King’s remarks.
“Peter King said two things. ‘Oh I made a promise to my constituents and that was a long time ago.’ As he knows full well that commitment is for the full duration for his time in Congress. Everybody knows that. It doesn’t pass the laugh test to say it lapsed,” said Norquist.
“As I pointed out, does he tell his bank, ‘Why are you sending me letters about my mortgage? That was ten years ago?’ Do promises have expiration dates? He made that promise to his constituents.”
Norquist went further, “In order to get out of the fact that this is a conversation about whether he keeps his word, he wants to act like I picked on his wife? No. No. No. That’s not what’s going on here.”
“He should keep his promises to his wife,” he said. “He should keep his promises to his constituents. He should keep his promises. We don’t need to over-dramatize the whole thing.”
Explaining that he “didn’t bring (King’s) wife” into the situation, Mr Norquist went on to say that he brought King into it.
“(Congressman King) needs to keep his commitments to the people (King represents), and if he doesn’t want to keep his commitments he should explain to why he doesn’t consider them important enough to keep his word to them.”
However, the ATR president points out he believes that the New York Republican does not really want to raise taxes and was actually “side-swiped” when first asked about the tax issue.
“Almost every Republican who takes the pledge is good on that and is doing fine. I don’t think Peter King meant to say he’s going to raise taxes,” Norquist said. “I think he was trying to talk about Benghazi, and they side-swiped him with a question on taxes and he answered awkwardly”
“Then he doubled down on it, which was a mistake on his part, but nobody is picking on him. But he does need to explain to the people of his district that he does intend to keep his word when he gives it to them.”
Although Mr. King and Mr. Norquist have hit a rough patch, it appears, however, that Mr. Norquist and other GOP lawmakers who may disagree with the ATR pledge are having an easier time smoothing things over with the conservative tax activist.
Senator Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican, voiced his objection to the ATR pledge last week saying, “times have changed significantly, and I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge.”
“I talked to Chambliss,” Mr. Norquist said. “He called. He had said some things that appeared to criticize me that didn’t make any sense. ‘Grover doesn’t have a plan.’” Norquist continued, “And then the same kind of conversation, ‘I don’t like Grover’s plan.’ And we walked through the fact that he was rambling a little bit, and it won’t happen again.”
Norquist said that Chambliss made a statement that they worked together and they’ll work together again in the future.
“Senators don’t apologize, but whatever senators do when they make a mistake, he did that,” said Norquist. Although Chambliss is on an ATR watch list for possibly voting for a flawed bill “…the snarky nature of what he was quoted as saying. I don’t think will happen again,” Norquist said.
Senator Chambliss appeared on Fox News Channel’s “Hannity” on Wednesday night and his tone towards Norquist was indeed softer than before, but he cited where he and Norquist had different opinions on taxes:
“Well here’s my difference with Grover and it’s pretty simple. The Simpson Bowles plan came out and says if were going to address the long term debt of this country, I recommend you eliminate all tax credits and tax exclusions in a major reform package. The gang of six, that I was a part of and still am a part of, followed that recommendation. We think you ought to eliminate all that. That would generate about 1.2 trillion dollars in revenue not new taxes…revenue.”
“Then you decide whether you add the mortgage interest deductions, charitable interest deductions and other things back in there. The question is what do you do with that revenue that’s been generated? We owe 16 trillion dollars. I think that you’ve got to pay part of that revenue towards that debt just like every single American that owns a home pays part of their monthly revenue towards their mortgage debt.”
“It’s exactly the same thing. That problem that Grover and I have is that he says is that if we do that it’s a tax increase because the rest of it will go towards lowering tax rates and that’s not 100 percent towards lowering tax rates.”
Slate reporter Dave Weigel interviewed Norquist earlier in the week and found out that Mr. Norquist had also spoken to Senator Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, after the lawmaker told the Washington Post, “I will violate the pledge, long story short, for the good of the country, only if Democrats will do entitlement reform.”
That wasn’t how Norquist saw it. “I’ve talked to Lindsey Graham on the phone after some of his pronouncements, and he’s said: ‘Oh, I would need 10-1 [ratio of cuts to tax hikes], and it would have to include permanent, unalterable entitlement reform.’ I said: ‘Lindsey, if that’s what it’s going to take to get you to raise taxes, I’m not going to worry about you. You are not in danger of being offered a silver unicorn, because unicorns don’t exist.’”