WASHINGTON - Grover Norquist may not be a household name. He’s never been elected to public office, just some conservative boards like the National Rifle Association and others.
But Norquist is viewed as a powerhouse in Washington. He’s gotten 238 House members and 41 senators to sign his pledge saying they’ll never raise taxes – that includes virtually every single Republican member of Congress from Florida.
Only 13 Republicans in Congress have refused to sign his Taxpayer Protection Pledge.
“Our job is to say ‘no’ to tax increases,” Norquist said to a group conservative activists this year. During his speech – one in which he called liberals “parasites” – Norquist reaffirmed his vision for the U-S tax code. “[To] stop throwing money in the center of the table, put our foot on the air hose, and watch that pile of money begin to decline.”
That’s the vision embodied in the pledge – deviate from it by supporting higher taxes and conservative activists will turn on you, opening you up to a primary challenge.
Harming the process
Critics say the so called “Supercommittee,” or Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, failed to cut trillions of dollars from the national debt because Republicans wouldn’t accept enough tax increases to appease the president.
Will the GOP be willing to budge on taxes in the next round of that debate after this year’s elections?
Simply put: No.
Not if it’s up to Republicans in the region.
“I think raising taxes now would be devastating,” says South Florida Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart. “I think raising taxes period is devastating. I don’t think the federal government has an issue of lack of recourses; it’s too much spending.”
Diaz-Balart denies Grover Norquist has any hold on him. “In my community," Diaz-Balart says, "I don’t know if [he] or groups like that are that relevant.” Diaz-Balart adds, “even though I happen to share the point of view that raising taxes [is] sheer stupidity.”
Thomas Mann, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institute, said that in many ways Norquist’s pledge has become the ticket for admission to today’s Republican tent.
“He’s not personally powerful but his tax pledge has become the signature feature – I call it the Holy Grail – of the contemporary Republican Party.” But Mann adds that the pledge “keeps [Republicans] from playing any constructive role in putting the country’s finances in order.”
There is evidence, though, the pledge is losing some of its sting within the GOP. Norquist claims the pledge is for life. Florida Republican Rep. Allen West disagrees: “Ain’t nothing for life but death and taxes. Okay?”
A Tea Party favorite, West got into a public rift with Norquist over the pledge. The Army veteran signed it while on duty in Afghanistan and then refused to sign it again during his 2010 campaign. This year West even went so far as to say Norquist is “a little misguided.”
“He’s trying to have this kind of blood oath kind of thing,” West says. “I don’t know. Don’t matter to me.”
The disagreement with Norquist aside, West says it isn’t a time to raise taxes on anyone.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio stands by the pledge he signed but agrees with West on not raising taxes.
“At some point every dollar that you take begins to do harm,” Rubio says, “because it’s money you’re taking out of the economy. It’s money that’s not available for the private sector. That’s why the charts are very clear: the bigger the government, the smaller the private sector.”
Florida Republicans and Democrats say they welcome the idea of overhauling the U.S. tax code at the start of the next Congress. Economists are also hoping lawmakers in both parties can forge a broad compromise to cut the nation’s debt.