Who is Grover Norquist?

by Michael on Nov 27, 2012

Photo of a Guy Making a Pledge With Fingers Crossed

At the risk of wandering off into politics, which I typically try to avoid…

It’s hard to turn on the news this week without hearing the name Grover Norquist. Why?

Because he has convinced the vast majority of Republican lawmakers to sign a pledge.

The pledge in question — the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” — involves promising to oppose all tax increases of any sort. So who is this Grover Norquist guy anyway?

Well… He’s a lobbyist and conservative activist who founded Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) back in 1985, apparently at the behest of Ronald Reagan. A year later he formulated the pledge and started collecting signatures.

Prior to that, he was the executive director of the National Taxpayers Union which, according to Wikipedia, “has worked to enact constitutional limits on government taxes, spending, and debt.”

Norquist is also a past-president of the College Republican National Committee.

As for the ATR, their mission statement says that:

“We believe in a system in which taxes are simpler, flatter, more visible, and lower than they are today. The government’s power to control one’s life derives from its power to tax. We believe that power should be minimized.”

And, for the record, signatories of the ATR’s pledge have promised to:

“ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and

TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”

Heading into the 2012 elections, 279 legislators had signed the ATR’s pledge. And those that have broken the pledge in the past have typically felt the wrath of the ATR and faced stiff opposition when seeking re-election.

But, faced with the looming fiscal cliff, some pledge-signers appear to be breaking ranks with Norquist and appear to be open to the possibility of tax increases as a partial solution to our fiscal problems.

For example, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has gone on record as saying that:

“When you’re $16T in debt, the only pledge we should be making to each other is to avoid becoming Greece, and Republicans should put revenue on the table.”

It should be noted, however, that Graham still agrees with Norquist that tax rates shouldn’t be increased — at all, not even at the high end. Rather, he allows that we should perhaps consider capping deductions.

For his part, Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) says that:

“Times have changed significantly, and I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge. If we do it his way, then we’ll continue in debt. I’m frankly not concerned about the Norquist pledge.”

The newly-elected Bob Corker (R-TN) has said that:

“I’m not obligated on the pledge. […] I was just elected, the only thing I’m honoring is the oath I take when I serve, when I’m sworn in this January.”

And Pete King (R-NY) has argued that:

“A pledge you signed 20 years ago, 18 years ago, is for that Congress. […] If I were in Congress in 1941, I would have signed a support of declaration of war against Japan. I’m not going to attack Japan today. The world has changed, and the economic situation is different.”

It’s also worth noting that some members of the Republican old guard have publicly stated that Norquist and his pledge are an obstacle to deficit reduction.

While I’m sure there are quite a number of legislators that are holding true to the pledge, it seems clear that the winds are changing.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

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