I find this almost unbelievable, and I expect a walkback anytime now, but Grover Norquist told the Washington Post editorial board today that letting the Bush tax cuts expire would not constitute a tax increase for the purposes of his anti-tax pledge.
With a handful of exceptions, every Republican member of Congress has signed a pledge against increasing taxes. Would allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire as scheduled in 2012 violate this vow? We posed this question to Grover Norquist, its author and enforcer, and his answer was both surprising and encouraging: No.
In other words, according to Mr. Norquist’s interpretation of the Americans for Tax Reform pledge, lawmakers have the technical leeway to bring in as much as $4 trillion in new tax revenue — the cost of extending President George W. Bush’s tax cuts for another decade — without being accused of breaking their promise. “Not continuing a tax cut is not technically a tax increase,” Mr. Norquist told us. So it doesn’t violate the pledge? “We wouldn’t hold it that way,” he said.
In a way, this is because Norquist would have nothing to score. Letting the Bush tax cuts expire is simply a matter of doing nothing. So Norquist would have to score negatively for… what? Not proposing an extension?
But it is significant that an outlet like the WaPo ed board is even talking about letting the Bush tax cuts expire. This do-nothing solution raises the same amount of money as any solution out there, as much as the Bowles-Simpson proposal, as much as the Obama-Boehner grand bargain, more than the Gang of Six. As much as anything. And while maybe some don’t think it’s a perfect solution, it has the benefit of not cutting Medicare, not cutting Social Security, not cutting Medicaid, in fact not cutting any social program, merely by raising taxes to a level consistent with the creation of 23 million jobs in the 1990s. It’s heartening to see the WaPo ed board write that “There is no policy basis for insisting that these tax rates are graven in stone and immune to change given the changed circumstances.”
Chuck Schumer plans to say on the floor of the House today that this reversal represents “a coded message to House GOP hard-liners who have rejected any debt reduction deal that includes revenues that they should stand down.” But he will only say that Norquist gave permission to let millionaire tax breaks lapse. That’s not true at all. He said that letting the Bush tax cuts expire – all of them – would not constitute a violation of his pledge. That’s the entire deficit solution in one fell swoop, accomplished by doing nothing.
A Democratic Party that really wanted to protect the social safety net would leap at this and announce that they just solved the deficit problem. As an added benefit, they only need 41 Senate votes to enforce it.
…and now, as expected, Norquist is claiming he was misquoted.
UPDATE: Americans for Tax Reform, Norquist’s organization, penned a long walkback of the remarks today. This is the second time recently that the normally buttoned-up Norquist has had to walk back statements that would boost support for increased tax rates.