Is Grover Norquist about to go over the fiscal cliff?

For 26 years, Grover has vowed to drive Republicans from office if they opposed the anti-tax pledge. But now a few are showing some backbone. Photo: Grover Norquist, the Anti-tax Man AP

WASHINGTON, November 28, 2012 —Who is this guy everyone in Washington is talking about: Grover Norquist? He sounds like a character that escaped from the Saturday morning cartoons. Only he is no laughing matter.

Grover Norquist has twisted the fate of the country in his hands for the last couple of years with Republicans turning themselves into pretzels to please him. How does he wield so much power?

He started by getting members of Congress, nearly all of them Republicans, to sign his No Tax Pledge 26 years ago and now 238 Representatives and 41 Senators in the 112th Congress are in his thrall.

Or they were until President Obama was re-elected, the American voters said they wanted the two parties to compromise on how to solve the deficit problem, and the fiscal cliff loomed on the horizon, December 31 to be exact. Now Republicans are hoping they signed their names in invisible ink and their signatures have disappeared from the pledge. Fat chance. Barring that, a few brave souls are starting to say to Grover about having signed it: “That was then. This is now.”

And Grover is saying: “You’ll be sorry?” But will they? Or is it Grover Norquist who is about to tumble over the falls on December 31?

Who Has the Upper Hand?

For more than two decades Grover has vowed to drive Republicans from office if they dared to oppose the pledge and increase taxes. But now a few are showing backbone and are willing to consider raising revenue through taxes as part of a deal with Democrats to prevent a disastrous budget meltdown at the end of this year. Already stepping before the cameras and saying they are no longer bound to the sacred pledge of no more taxes is:

Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) on “Charlie Rose”: “I’m not obligated on the pledge.”

Senator Bob Corker AP

Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.): “I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge.”

Senator Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos”: “I want to buy down debt and cut rates to create jobs, but I will violate the pledge, long story short, for the good of the country, only if Democrats will do entitlement reform.”

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) on “Meet the Press”: “The world has changed, and the economic situation is different.”

Even Eric Cantor on “Morning Joe,” hinted that he was open to the idea. So the cracks are appearing. Will they shatter 26 years of anti-tax, Republican dogma and with it the career of Grover Norquist?

Norquist himself seems unfazed by the appearance of defections and brushed them off: “Do I think everyone’s abandoning the pledge? No. I didn’t then, and I don’t now. I don’t think between now and 2014 that either the South Carolina senator [Graham] or the Georgia senator [Chambliss] will vote for a tax increase.”

In an interview on CNN he pooh-poohed it as mere chatter: “We’ve got some people discussing impure thoughts on national television.”

Grover makes it seem like the GOP boys are having naughty thoughts and nothing more, dismissing them like so many errant kids. Does he know something that the rest of us don’t? Is his grip on the GOP a stranglehold and he knows it?

How Did Norquist Become Powerful?

So how did this unassuming guy in a rumpled but expensive suit come to be a mega-power broker in a city where power brokers are a dime a dozen? Basically he has been the head of the Republican Party for decades, personifying what he defines as conservative fiscal restraint.  Norquist has sought only one thing: to shrink the size of the government until he “could drown it in the bathtub.” He has come very close to flushing it down the toilet.

Grover Norquist made the climb up the political ladder the old fashioned way, by becoming a GOP stalwart, starting with the Nixon presidential campaign when he was only 12. Born into a wealthy family, he graduated from Harvard University and Harvard Business School, and Republican theology became his mother’s milk.

By 1985, he was an economist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and so highly thought of by Republicans that President Reagan picked the then 29-year-old to head Americans for Tax Reform (still his signature organization), a lobby group that does just that: tax reform for the wealthy by lowering their tax rates.

Republicans Are Afraid of Norquist

To make sure that Congresses in the future would not reverse any of the Reagan tax cuts, Norquist drafted the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which is what these Congressional Republicans and Republicans officials across the country signed, for a grand total of 1,200 federal, state, and local Republican elected officials. Even the GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney signed it.

Now that’s clout and here’s why: To break the anti-tax oath to Norquist is to suffer the consequences. Anyone who dares to defy Norquist will face a primary challenge from the Right, organized and angry anti-tax voters, the wrath of the Tea Party activists, and disappearing campaign donations. Grover and his followers love to single out the defeat of President George H. W. Bush, who had signed the anti-tax pledge, and then had the temerity to raise taxes.

As Norquist so quaintly puts it: “Take the pledge, win the primary. Take the pledge, win the general. Break the pledge, lose.”

Over the years ATR has been a steady wind blowing the Republicans towards the extreme Right. Then the emergence of the Tea Party turned that into a gale force wind, truly a perfect storm sweeping away Republican moderates and blowing in 87 GOP Congressional freshmen who had no trouble signing the Norquist oath.

This is why Grover Norquist is so dismissive of talk of taxes by the GOP. He would rather take the country over the fiscal cliff than raise taxes, and he is betting he will be standing on the banks watching us all go over.

To contact Catherine Poe, see above. Her work appears in Ad Lib at the Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. She can also be heard on Democrats for America’s Future. She is also a contributor to broadcast, print and online media.


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Catherine Poe

Catherine was named one of the top Progressives in Maryland along with Senator Barbara Mikulski and Congresswoman Donna Edwards. She has been a guest of President Obama in the Rose Garden.

As past president of Long Island NOW, she worked to reform women's prisons in New York, open the construction trades to women, change laws to safeguard battered women, and protect the rights of rape victims. 

Long active in Democratic politics, she served as the presidentof the Talbot Democrats in Maryland for six years and fought to getthe Health Care Reform bill passed.

Catherine has been published in a diverse range of newspapers and magazines, including Newsday, Star Democrat, Rocky Mountain News, Yellowstone News, and the Massachusetts Review.

If Catherine has learned anything over the years it is that progressive change does not come easily, but in baby steps. 

Contact Catherine Poe

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