How Norquist’s Pledge Blocks Real Deficit Cuts

April 25th, 2011 at 10:39 am David Frum | 36 Comments |

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Eli Lehrer has an incisive piece on this page about Tom Coburn’s “Gang of Six” tax proposals. I believe however that the proposals deserve a warmer endorsement than Eli offers.

An important cause of America’s long-term debt problem is the intellectual cul-de-sac into which Republicans have driven themselves. Republicans have accepted a total ban on any kind of tax increase as party orthodoxy. And they have submitted to the authority of Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform to determine what constitutes a “tax increase.”

Norquist takes the view that any action that increases the revenue column of the federal government must be deemed a tax increase – and that such increases are only permissible if they are offset by an equivalent cut to the spending column.

The trouble is that a lot of federal spending – especially the spending done by Republicans – takes the form of tax remission.

The federal government offers a tax credit of up to $9,500 for the purchase of plug-in electric cars. How exactly is that different from writing a check to every plug-in buyer? Yet canceling this program would count as a tax increase under Grover Norquist’s test.

Adopt a child and you can qualify for a tax credit of up to $13,100. You can even get credit for the cost of meals and lodging while traveling in a foreign country to receive the child. You can say a lot of things about this measure. But is it a “tax cut”? Hardly.

Enrolled in college or university? You can deduct up to $4,000 of qualified tuition expenses.

Over 65? Or disabled? Adjusted gross taxable income of less than $17,500? Tax credit for you.

And so on. The point is not that these tax expenditures are all necessarily ill-advised. (It’s genuinely more expensive to be disabled, and public money to help the disabled cope with the costs imposed on them by nature or accident seems a reasonable response by a civilized society.) The point is: they are expenditures, disguised as tax cuts.

This point – so obvious with the smaller tax expenditures – is true also of many of the larger tax expenditures, even if familiarity blinds us to the fact. Mortgage interest deductibility and the tax exclusion of employer-provided fringe benefits: these are subsidies too, no less subsidies for being widely rather than narrowly used.

Yet on the Norquist system and by the Norquist rule, the US cannot address these subsidies contained in the tax code unless and until they are simultaneously matched exactly with other subsidies and benefits that happened to have been framed as outlays. Economically, the rule makes little sense. Politically, it has the job of making deficit reduction twice as difficult as it needs to be. With consequences that …. well let’s leave that for a second post.


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36 Comments so far ↓

  • Rabiner

    I must agree with this post.

  • NRA Liberal

    Frum, prophet without honour in his own country.

    • mickster99

      Wasn’t Frum working in the G.W. Bush White House while the disasatrous Bush Tax Cuts were increasing the deficit by a goodly 50% as accurately predicited during Bush’s 2 terms in office? Does no one remember why the tax cuts had an expiry date????? During this time as Republicans borrowed money to pay for lavish tax cuts on the rich, writing loops in the tax code for big oil, started 2 wars and a create huge Medicare benefit the Frumster said nary a thing about the devastating consequences they were having on budgets?

      Indeed the Frumster actually wrote a hagiography about George W.

      Frumster the chameleon.

  • llbroo49

    But the fault is not with Nordqusit, it lies directly at the feet of Republican politicians that abdicate their responsibilities in support of a Special Interest group.

    • Smargalicious

      How about Democratic politicians who created a permanent parasitic underclass because they insure votes??

      • drcme

        Smarg: I’m curious to know why you repeatedly refer to your fellow human beings as “parasites” amongst other such derogatory terms. Do you truely believe that those less fortunate than you choose that path? All of them? How do you distinguish between people who have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own, and those who just don’t want to make the effort? Or do you not distinguish and just assume everyone beneath you is scum? What happened to your soul to make you so hateful? Do you think that God would approve of you using such terms about your fellow humans? I believe Jesus said that whatever you do to the least of you brothers you do to him; so you’re ok calling Jesus a “parasite”?

      • lillyluminatus

        Right, smarg. Because poor people are such a consistent voting bloc.

        Has it ever occurred to you that unnecessary human suffering in the richest nation on the planet actually bothers some people?

        The “underclass,” as you call it, exists regardless. The only question is whether or not to ignore their basic humanity and suffering.

  • Hunter01

    “costs imposed on them by nature or accident seems a reasonable response by a civilized society.”

    This goes to the core of the pernicious liberal theology that we should use public money (or private for that matter) to help the less fortunate. Once we go down that path, we encounter the poor, the elderly, the disabled, the infirm, widows, orphans, veterans, and so on. The list of needy grubbers never ends. They and their enablers have bankrupted America.
    I join my colleagues on the right in flatly rejecting this theology. Norquist may be a crook and a charlatan, but his disdain for the helpless is profoundly moving and patriotic. That’s why his message is so effective. It appeals to the better angels of our national conscience.

    • jamesj

      With much respect Hunter01, I just wanted to respond to your post with a short description of the reason why most people on earth, most living Conservatives around the world, and even many Conservatives in the USA (like myself and my inner circle of friends) support some level of federal organization, taxation and spending. Each society (civilization, country, town, etc.) gets to choose their own comfort zone in the trade-off between the following two extreme positions:

      1) very little central authority, very little central organization, very little society-wide investment in infrastructure and research, very little security against chance downside risk (illness, death of breadwinner, etc.), very high levels of autonomy, very high levels of personal freedom (property, legal), very high possible upside reward for individual virtue and skill (as well birth, inheritance, class, etc.).

      2) high levels of central authority, high levels of central organization, high levels of society-wide investment in infrastructure and research, high levels of security (a kind of freedom) against chance downside risk, low levels of autonomy, low levels of personal freedom (property, legal), low possible upside reward for individual virtue and skill (as well birth, inheritance, class, etc.).

      Your comfort zone obviously falls near extreme 1. From a relative historical perspective we now have many non-western societies falling more than 50% towards extreme 2. From a relative historical perspective Western Civilization has mostly fallen somewhere near the middle of the spectrum but skewed a bit towards extreme 1. Of course, most Conservatives in western countries skew a bit farther towards extreme 1. Of course, the USA is the most skewed towards extreme 1 out of any western nation. Of course, Conservatives and Libertarians in the USA are likely one of the most skewed towards extreme 1 of any group of people who ever lived in a major advanced civilization in human history. I can’t think of any other group of people in human history who lived in a society built on collective investment and central federal power like hours, who had such a dim view of it, although I mostly agree with that dim view. If anyone has some good examples from advanced societies (not just groups of nomadic horsemen, even if they conquered the world) I’d love to hear them.

      There are many people, like myself, who consider themselves “Conservative” and who have “Libertarian” sympathies, who prefer strong checks on federal power and who prefer high upsides to individual virtue even when they come with huge potential individual risks… but who nonetheless feel that the extreme #1 side of the spectrum is too devastating to a large community’s ability to organize for major tasks, invest in large projects, and protect against chance individual devastations. We are Conservative when looked at from the perspective of world history, the history of western civilization, and the history of even Conservatism in general, but we are not so Conservative or so Libertarian that we advocate the complete dismantling of large-scale societal investments that most average citizens want. We also don’t advocate further lowering of corporate tax rates and upper income marginal tax rates beyond their already historically-low levels. We advocate a measured approach, Conservative by almost any standard, but not going to the ultimate extreme of the scale which modern day right wing politicians in the USA seem to be advocating.

      Sorry for the long post, but I think it is useful to hear different opinions. Your post implies that all those who disagree with you are dogmatically following a “theology”, but in my experience there are many people who fully understand everything that you understand about history, economics, politics, human nature, etc… and yet they soberly and rationally come to different conclusions than you about the best way for the majority of people on earth to live a good life. I humbly ask you to keep an open mind to the possibility that your ideological rivals are not simply dumber or more dogmatic than you. When you fall into the common human trap of seeing your enemies as dumb and dogmatic, you close down the possibility of changing your own mind and possibly growing and learning more about the world. Growing and learning more is the ultimate goal, isn’t it? Surely, you don’t believe that you’ve figured out the inner workings of this complex world and that everyone else in human history has had it wrong.

      • think4yourself

        James, I’ll put a business and pragmatic take on your “extreme 1″ versus “extreme 2″ positions.

        On a national level, we have 300 million people, maybe 150 million potential workers. If we ensure that those potential workers and their dependents have their basic needs met (food, housing, basic medical needs, etc), you’ll end up with a more productive workforce which can generate greater GDP. Further, if a large portion of them have a top flight education, you’ll get increased technological output versus the competition (other nations) which will leverage your productivity. Therefore, from a capitalist point of view, having a social and educational net increases the benefits to the nation as a whole and the wealthy in particular. One of the reasons our country became the dominant economic power in the middle of the 20th century is (a) our infrastructure and manpower was not destroyed in WW1 & WW2 and (b) we made significant investments in the 50′s & 60′s in both infrastructure (Eisenhower’s road system) and education (state spending, federal spending and the GI bill).

        Those who would knee-jerk destroy all those programs in the name of Conservatism may not like the generational effect that would bring in terms of US productivity.

    • IntelliWriter

      There are so many contradictions in your post, I don’t even know where to start. But calling orphans, veterans, and the disabled “needy grubbers” is really beyond the pale. Have you no shame?

    • Blue Grit

      Your comment is laughable. You remind me of Kevin Kline’s character in A Fish Called Wanda. You probably think that Jesus wrote Mein Kampf. Do unto others before they do to you is a joke.

  • Old_Whig

    The solution is simple. Raise the debt limit this time but make it certain that it’s the last time by instituting a spending cap of 18 % of GDP*. As a measure of flexibility institute mechanisms like in Sweden that allow for unfunded deficit spending in crises but with also has automatic deficit reduction features after the crisis. (as in Sweden it would be outside the political system, cuts and spending increases are automatic)

    But when Big Government Democrats, Big Governent Republicans and Big Government Centrist warns about financial Armageddon if the debt ceiling isn’t raised they actually warning against the risk of putting Big Goverment in a straight jacket.

    Sweden learned the hard way that to get back to fiscal sanity after the Keynesian on steroid spending and taxing spree between 1968-1993 was hard core fiscal austerity, dracionian spending cuts especially on the PayGo Social Security system, went into insolvency 1990, and by 2030 would like in the US now only pay out 10 cents on the dollar. Government spending was cut by 1/3. Marginal taxation rates cut in half, corporate taxation cut by 2/3, all tax expenditure eradicated, tax base broadened. The main burden was carried by the middle class as it should be here in the US since they earn the vast majority of the income. The so called rich paid more taxes than before the reform in the 90s in Sweden because they became more productive, instead of having 4-5 months paid leave the only had 5 weeks paid leave. Sweden had an entreprenurial IT revolution. For over 50 years during the crazy semi-socialist Keynsian years not one, 1, new large entreprenurial business had been created. In fact the large corporations in Sweden were created in the late 1800s.

    If the middle class wants to keep their benefits, they have to pay for it themselves like it has always been in Sweden.

    * the 18 % spending cap is set because during the last 100 years in the US the tax revenue on average has been 18 %. No increases in marginal taxation rates have increased revenue. It’s because of the same that happened in Sweden. If taxes increase you work less.

    • jamesj

      I mostly agree with you, but I’m just curious where you get some of your more extreme historical views from. For instance, your claim that increases in tax rates never increase revenue in all of modern American history is at best unprovable and at worst a gross misrepresentation of history. To my knowledge and study of economics most economists would certainly disagree with this, although they’d note that it is extremely difficult to determine how much of any revenue increase or decrease is actually directly attributable to changes in marginal tax rates (since there are many other complex forces involved). Your claim flatly denies the existence of any Laffer Curve. You are basically saying there is no curve, there is no trade-off between the marginal utility of money and the marginal work people do. You are saying a graph of tax rates against tax revenues should be a line with no u-bend. You are disagreeing with popular economic opinion that the USA circa 2011 is on the left side of the Laffer Curve, where increases in marginal tax rates easily result in higher revenues. You are disagreeing even with the original architects of president Reagan’s marginal income tax cuts, who now say the strategy did not have a positive effect on revenue but was useful in that historical context for other reasons. So, based on what evidence do you come to your conclusions about tax rates and their effect on the work people do?

      • Old_Whig

        It has fluctuated between 15-20 % of GDP, on average 18 % and during the Reagan years. The basis for supply side economics is still there. What you fail to see is that when GDP rises at the same time as tax reciepts the number stays the same. That’s for instance why the number 2010 is so low 15% even though the actual receipts are back to pre 2008 levels, the drastic fall in GDP is the culprit

        Facts about taxes/GDP http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/displayafact.cfm?Docid=200

        year….%
        76 17.1
        77 18
        78 18
        79 18.5
        80 19
        81 19.6
        82 19.2
        83 17.5
        84 17.3
        85 17.7
        86 17.5
        87 18.4
        88 18.2
        89 18.4
        1977 18

  • chicago_guy

    Norquist’s position on taxation has ALWAYS been totally ignorant of both human history and human psychology. His “starve the beast” mantra has proved to be a total failure, and the fact that any Republican still listens to the little nerd is proof positive that there is no intelligence left in the Republican party.

    If you want to make people really receptive to smaller government, you have to start by forcing them to actually pay for the costs of every program out there. Since Congress has the power to borrow, they will always resort to borrowing rather than cutting; put them in a position where they have to tell the constitutuents “you want a huge-ass military? Then here’s what’s it’s going to cost you!”, and you’ll find the country eager to reduce expenditures.

    And the example above is why they DON’T want to force the people to pay the actual costs; because they know that given a choice of investing in a military that sucks up 26% of our budget, or investing in education, highways, NASA, research, energy, etc, the majority of the country would cut our military budget in half or more. Most Americans are sane enough to see how distended our budget has become, and they’ll kill off Senator Hillbilly’s bomber program before killing off much smaller, more more investment-grade expenditures.

    But doing so would mean that conservatives would all of a sudden no longer be in a position to thump their chest and talk about how “strong” America is – and there’s nothing worse for an American conservative than to run the risk that anyone could call them a sissy or a geek again, the way most of us did when we went to high school with their types.

    So what you see is the truth of Norquist’s positions; it’s not about “smaller government”, it’s about “more money for me, and screw the country.” Match that up with the “recovering high school nerds” who run the GOP these days, and you get the situation we have now.

    • jamesj

      Sadly, you are hitting the nail on the head. No one has ever convinced the majority of the American public (or the majority of the public in any modern western country) that federal authority should be reduced to levels so low that popular federal social welfare programs are dismantled. It is a truth of human nature that the majority of people want these programs and the majority of people are willing to trade some individual freedom in return for some individual security. Why do people feel this way? Well, it is pretty simple. Their lives are improved in a very real way by such society-wide security-net programs. I think the Ben Franklin quote regarding this trade-off is a bit extreme. You can’t deny human nature no matter how hard you wish it away. Human nature is composed of both individualistic and collective urges. Most of us are not so individualistic that we want to live in a lawless anarchic state. Most of us are not so collectivist that we want to live in a centrally-planned communitarian prison camp.

      As a result, you don’t really see modern right wingers in the US (or any other western nation) arguing for a dismantling of these programs on sound rational grounds. Instead you get a deflection of the whole issue onto some irrational fears (inflation, national debt, “communism”). These false issues have emotional resonance, especially with people who are just living their life and not well-informed when it comes to philosophy or economics. But they don’t hold much intellectual weight with people on the left or right who’ve put thought into these issues.

      If we were having a real debate, we’d have one side saying “the vast majority of people scratching out their daily existence should give up some of their current security blanket in return for more individual freedom and the chance to really strike it rich if they work hard enough and are lucky enough”. The other side would be saying “no, let’s keep societal security blankets in place since they improve quality of life for the majority of people scratching out their daily existence and the freedom lost is worth the increased security and peace-of-mind”.

  • Hunter01

    jamesj,

    Missing from your posts is any discussion of the role of the wealthy in a modern capitalist society. Conservatives recognize that the rich provide a helpful model to the middle and lower classes (think Trump), vividly displaying a set of cultural and economic norms that at once exhort and inspire the population to rise up and follow a higher destiny. Any inhibitions or strain placed upon the upper class (taxation in particular, but also legal and moral constraints) will eventually undermine the creative abilities of the American people to reach their God-given potential. Our hope lies in that still small voice that whispers to us: “One day, maybe I can be just like The Donald.” Therein lies the importance of protecting our social betters, a blueprint for an enlightened tax policy, and the salvation of our beloved country.

    • notabene1

      Any inhibitions or strain placed upon the upper class (taxation in particular, but also legal and moral constraints) will eventually undermine the creative abilities of the American people to reach their God-given potential. Our hope lies in that still small voice that whispers to us: “One day, maybe I can be just like The Donald.” Therein lies the importance of protecting our social betters, a blueprint for an enlightened tax policy, and the salvation of our beloved country.

      You’re joking, right? “The Donald”??? Why hold him up as some kind of paragon of capitalistic virtue? Why not use a real billionaire (not someone who plays one on TV)? There are several you could choose from, say, Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, both of whom have publicly stated that people like them need to pay more taxes. (And, by the way, both of whom have also given away most of their wealth to charity. See the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. http://www.gatesfoundation.org/about/Pages/overview.aspx)

      Read this interview with Buffett: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-11-21/warren-buffett-tells-abc-rich-people-should-pay-more-in-taxes.html

      Two relevant quotes for you:

      1) “If anything, taxes for the lower and middle class and maybe even the upper middle class should even probably be cut further,” Buffett said in an interview with ABC’s “This Week With Christiane Amanpour” that is scheduled to air on Nov. 28. “But I think that people at the high end — people like myself — should be paying a lot more in taxes. We have it better than we’ve ever had it.”

      2) “The rich are always going to say that, you know, just give us more money and we’ll go out and spend more and then it will all trickle down to the rest of you,” Buffett, chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., said in the interview. “But that has not worked the last 10 years, and I hope the American public is catching on.”

      Oh, and by the way, Buffett and Gates aren’t the only ones: http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2011-04-22/mark-zuckerberg-bill-gates-warren-buffett-billionaires-who-favor-tax-hikes

      From Tom Steyer, founder of Farallon Capital Management: “I think anyone who doesn’t give credit to the system that they are born into is taking an awful lot onto themselves,” Steyer told Amanpour. “I mean, I really think that people have sacrificed a lot more than a little tax money to make that system available for all of us.”

      Lastly, here’s an op-ed from Garrett Gruener, founder of Ask.com and co-founder of venture-capital firm Alta Partners: http://articles.latimes.com/2010/sep/20/opinion/la-oe-gruener-tax-the-rich-20100920

      Gruener: “When inequality gets too far out of balance, as it did over the course of the last decade, the wealthy end up saving too much while members of the middle class can’t afford to spend much unless they borrow excessively. Eventually, the economy stalls for lack of demand, and we see the kind of deflationary spiral we find ourselves in now. I believe it is no coincidence that the two highest peaks in American income inequality came in 1929 and 2008, and that the following years were marked by low economic activity and significant unemployment.”

    • think4yourself

      Hunter – I’m assuming that just like Smarg you’re interested in making the liberal’s heads spin, not making a real point.

      the rich provide a helpful model to the middle and lower classes (think Trump), vividly displaying a set of cultural and economic norms that at once exhort and inspire the population to rise up and follow a higher destiny. Any inhibitions or strain placed upon the upper class (taxation in particular, but also legal and moral constraints)”

      Really? We all want to be like Trump? That’s our higher destiny? And that destiny is thwarted by inhibitions including taxation, legal and moral constraints? Oh, you mean kind of like Bernie Madoff? Or maybe Charlie Sheen. We also see that lack of moral constraints in our politicians (think Clinton and Gingrich at their worst).

      I think most Americans believe that our highest and best source of capitalism is creating resources to empower others along with receiving the benefits themselves. Carnegie was a tough minded businessman (who killed the unions and even some of his own workers), but at the end gave his entire fortune away. Gates and Buffett, no strangers to tough business dealings are doing similar. I’m not idolizing any of those guys, but I don’t think that rich should not pay taxes, be above the law or standards of decency simply because they either have or make more money than others. I don’t think too many Libertarians would agree with you either.

  • Elvis Elvisberg

    Grover Norquist is a Republican. Republicans don’t care about the deficit. We know this. Reagan cared enough about the deficit to raise income taxes repeatedly to address it, but didn’t care enough to not explode it. Bush Sr. cared enough about the deficit to sign legislation that, along with the 1993 budget, led to balanced budgets, and earned a primary challenge for his efforts. Bush Jr. exploded the deficit, his VP said “deficits don’t matter,” and Republicans turned out in droves to re-elect him in ’04, and gave him a 75% approval rating as he left office.

    See, e.g., http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2010/06/25/A-Budget-Deal-That-Did-Reduce-the-Deficit.aspx

    Budget experts now agree that the Budget Enforcement Act of 1990, which was strengthened in 1993 by another budget deal that was opposed by all Republicans, deserves much of the credit for the subsequent improvement in the deficit, which shrank from 4.7 percent of GDP in 1992 to virtual balance in 1997 and gave us budget surpluses from 1998 to 2001. Economist Robert Reischauer, director of the Congressional Budget Office when the 1990 budget deal was enacted, told me it was “the foundation upon which the surpluses of the 1998 to 2001 period were built.”

    Republicans don’t care about the deficit. We’ve known this for quite some time.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    oh my God Hunter, please please be saying you are writing nothing but parody. I would rather be flayed alive than to ever be like Donald Trump, an pathetic vessal of egoism and greed. You write your post as though you have no conception of human dignity or worth outside of material possessions. However, I am sure it has to be parody. No one in their right mind would want to be like Donald Trump. That parody you write is of a kind of Randian blatherskite, here is David Hart:
    There, of course, one has the essential oafishness of Rand’s view of reality. For her, the world really was starkly divided between creators and parasites, and the vast majority of humanity belonged to the ranks of the latter. “I came here to say I do not recognize anyone’s right to one minute of my life,” Roark continues, “nor to any part of my energy, nor to any achievement of mine.” Rand really imagined that there could ever be a man whose best achievements were simply and solely the products of his own unfettered and unaided will. She had no concept of grace, even of the ordinary kind: the grace of an existence we do not give ourselves, of natural powers with which we could never have endowed ourselves, and of all those other persons on whom even the strongest among us are dependent. She lacked any ennobling sense that what lies most deeply within us also comes from impossibly far beyond us, as an unmerited gift. She liked to talk about “virtue” a great deal—meaning primarily strength of will and the value that one creates out of one’s own native resources—but for her the only important question regarding the relation between the individual and society was who has a right to what. That is, admittedly, a question that must be asked at various times, but it is never the question that true virtue—true strength—asks of itself.
    All right, all right—perhaps I’m being just a little spiteful. I may even be overreacting. The world survived the filming of The Fountainhead (if only by the skin of its teeth), and it may yet survive this. And Ayn Rand always provokes a rather extravagant reaction from me, and probably for purely ideological reasons. For instance, I like the Sermon on the Mount. She regarded its prescriptions as among the vilest ever uttered. I suspect that charity really is the only way to avoid wasting one’s life in a desert of sterile egoism. She regarded Christian morality as a poison that had polluted the will of Western man with its ethos of parasitism and orgiastic self-oblation. And, simply said, I cannot find much common ground with someone who believed that the principal source of human woe over the last twenty centuries has been a tragic shortage of selfishness.

    http://www.firstthings.com/article/2011/05/the-trouble-with-ayn-rand

    • zephae

      “oh my God Hunter, please please be saying you are writing nothing but parody.”

      Hunter: “Norquist may be a crook and a charlatan, but his disdain for the helpless is profoundly moving and patriotic.”

      You think it just maybe might be a joke?

  • Frumplestiltskin

    Here is Chait and yglesias:
    Matthew Yglesias points out that Grover Norquist is the most powerful ally of liberal democrats who oppose spending cuts:

    I’m not sure if Norquist understands this or not, but in the current moment of institutional weakness for American liberalism, he’s the most powerful advocate we have. At the end of the day, the long-term level of taxation is determined by the level of money that’s spent. Every dollar the federal government spends will be repaid, with interest, out of taxes. And currently in Washington we have lots and lots of Democrats—from Barack Obama to Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet—arguing for reductions in scheduled spending. And the main thing standing in their way is Grover Norquist, his tax pledge, and his insistence that no Republican vote for any spending cutting bill that also includes some increases in revenue. So far, that’s denying cuts-oriented Democrats the working legislative majority they need to implement their agenda, and giving congress’ small number of hard-core progressives the ability to veto cuts in Social Security.

    It’s clearly true. The size of government is defined by the size of spending, not taxes. Any money that’s spent will eventually be matched by taxing, whereas tax revenue does not create its own spending. A deal that increases taxes and cuts spending is a deal to reduce the size of government. It’s amazing that so many conservatives, led by Norquist, oppose a deal like that.

    Now, there is a way in which Norquist’s twisted philosophy can work. If Republicans use their periods of majority control to implement debt-financed tax cuts, they can increase the structural budget deficit. Then, when Democrats take power, they can force Democrats to devote their resources to reducing the deficit rather than other priorities. It worked during the Clinton administration, and it’s working to some extent during the Obama administration. (Obama used health care reform largely as an exercise in reducing health care cost inflation, which made it far more politically painful than the Bush-style let’s just cut a check method favored by Paul Ryan and other Republicans.)

    There are, however, two flaws in the Norquist plan. The first is that it depends upon Democrats playing the sucker forever, using their presidencies to clean up the GOP’s mess, then watch Republicans make a mess all over again, and be willing to use their power to play janitor this way in perpetuity.

    The second flaw is that the crucial clean-up role, in which the size of government really does get reduced through a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts, will inevitably run into the opposition of… Grover Norquist. Norquist’s plan depends on him losing a high-stakes fight as crucial moments. That seems like a hard plan to sustain. (This also suggests that Norquist’s plan is not a plan at all but rather a form of ideological megalomania.)

    There’s also the fact that Norquist’s plan runs the risk of undermining the entire fiscal basis of the federal government and precipitating a collapse, but I’m not counting that because I’m not sure Norquist considers it a flaw.

  • pnumi2

    Grover Norquist has betrayed America more than anyone in our 235 years.

    Ethel and Julius Rosenberg merely gave the Soviets plans for the bomb, which they never used against us.

    Norquist is the Rasputin who convinced Republican leaders in the ’80s to embark on a course of budgetary suicide, which has taken us closer and closer to the event horizon of the black hole, into which this country and all its magnificent history will soon be swallowed.

    And this Quisling is still at large, spreading his filthy theories and attacking those who would try to save America from the booby trap he constructed for it.

    His tongue and nose should be cut off and he should be set on a tread mill until such time as America recovers from the damage he has done to it.

  • Raskolnik

    Hey everybody, I don’t really have any comments (I think people so far have done a pretty good job, especially Hunter’s satire-bordering-on-uncomfortably-close-parroting-of-talking-points).

    I just wanted to let people know that I am going away for a monthlong retreat. So please, if you are the praying type, please do pray for me and my retreat, that it goes well and so on; it would mean a lot to me. And if you are one of those godless secular-humanist types… I don’t know, just try not to think too negatively about anything I might have said to make you upset ;)

    I hope everyone here had a happy and blessed Easter, and may God continue to guide and inspire all of you with His grace–even Smarg and Nick.

    • Elvis Elvisberg

      Very pleased, as an extremely reluctant atheist, to offer just such a prayer. And good luck to you. Hope that you find your time well spent. See you around here in a month.

  • mickster99

    Is it possible that peraps a few conseratives are finally waking up and realizing that their tax reduction policies fo giveaways to the mostly the wealthiest Americans for the past 30+ years wasn’t free after all?

    But Norquist must be very happy indeed.

    He can now drown the government in the bathtub with Ryan and the crazy banazi Teabaggers happily howling for it’s death with misnamed A Plan for Prosperity.

    All the while planning for more tax decreases for the wealthiest and corporations on schedule to see their tax rates plummet to rates no seen since the 30′s

  • COProgressive

    David wrote;
    Economically, the rule makes little sense. Politically, it has the job of making deficit reduction twice as difficult as it needs to be. With consequences that ….”

    Grove Norquist makes little sense. He was one to the nitwits that dreamed up the failure of “Starve the Beast” that has sunk the American economy and OUR government into the huge debt we face today. Why would anyone in their right mind listen to him now.

    Grover is all excited because he see the endgame of his idiot plan to destroy the social safety nets that Americans fought for and have benefitted from for 70 years now. But poor Grover won’t see the goalline for his nitwit plan for even as he holds two hands full of Republican “pledges” the 70% of Americans who now understand were this idiot plan is going want nothing to do with it, or the Congressmen and Senators who signed the pledge.

    Grover is going to find that when it comes to reelection his handful of “pledges” won’t amount to a hill of beans.

    Starve the Beast: Just Bull, not Good Economics
    http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Columns/2010/11/26/Bartlett-Starve-The-Beast.aspx

    Starve the beast is a crackpot theory, and its flip side that higher taxes invariably feed the beast is no better. They are just self-serving rationalizations for Republican budgetary irresponsibility. – Bruce Bartlett

    The sooner the Republicans come to their senses and tell Grover to bugger off the better OUR country will be.

  • The Debt Ceiling Thingie, Tax Cuts and Far Right Libertarian Demigods | The Pink Flamingo

    [...] real problem is Grover Norquist and his demagoguery.  David Frum wrote: “…Norquist takes the view that any action that increases the revenue column of the federal government must be deemed a tax [...]

  • Stewardship

    Grover is the subject and answer to the long asked question, “Who died and made you God?”

  • Fastball

    I’m with Dr. Coburn on this issue. Norquist is an egotistical, insufferable little pissant. If he wants to do the hard work of getting the deficit under control, let him get out of his Beltway media bubble, get elected to office, and see how hard governing really is.

  • Nomad13

    +1 Hunter, for being a satirical genius.

    -1 Hunter, for being so satirical that nobody can tell that he’s joking.