Thursday, July 21, 2011


Via Jonathan Chait, I see that the Washington Post editorial page has rather remarkable news: lead right-wing hostage-taker Grover Norquist says that letting the Bush tax cuts expire in 2012 would not violate his no-new-taxes pledge, which is a widespread Republican blood oath. Wow! Who knew?

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....

Um, there's just one problem with this: in a Newsmax interview in July 2010, when it appeared that the Democratic-majority Congress might let the tax cuts expire, Norquist said exactly the opposite:

... Allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire at the end of this year, as the Democrats plan, will in fact result in "about a trillion-dollar tax increase on the American people over the next decade," Norquist says.

"It would be the largest tax increase in American history, and it would take every marginal tax rate and increase it. The taxes on businesses, on capital gains, would be very high.

"When these tax cuts went into effect in 2003, the economy and the stock market strengthened. As soon as people realized that those tax increases were going to come in in January of 2011, the stock market began its decline." ...

So what's going on here? Maybe Norquist is mellowing -- either he's had a sincere change of heart or (more likely) he knows that we're heading toward a cliff, and that many of us think this is a catastrophe even if he doesn't, and he knows he's being blamed, so he's trying to look reasonable.

And maybe it just never occurred to Fred Hiatt and his Washington Post ed board colleagues to check Norquist's statement against his past statements -- possibly because they don't want to interfere with his attempt to repair his image.

Or maybe Norquist was misinterpreted -- maybe he went on to say, or would have gone on to say, that expiration of the cuts isn't a tax increase if rates are lowered some other way (as the Simpson-Bowles commission has recommended, for instance, or as in the Gang of Six plan). And that -- somehow -- never got into the Post editorial.

Or maybe this was all done in the full knowledge that Norquist is deceiving us -- in the full knowledge that, if the tax cuts are on the verge of expiring and rates are really going to rise, Norquist is just going to blatantly contradict what he's telling the Post now and revert to what he told Newsmax: he's going to say "expiration = tax increase," and order his minions to block any possible expiration.

I think that's precisely what he's going to do. I think there's zero chance of an expiration, unless the expiration is accompanied by a tax-rate change that doesn't raise the taxes of anyone, even (especially!) gazillionaires.

I just can't say for sure why the Posties didn't tell us what Norquist used to say about this.


UPDATE: A Balloon Juice commenter reads this Jake Tapper tweet as a Norquist walkback under tea party pressure:

Norquist said the WP didnt include the full comments, that whatever the technicality, one couldnt tell the Am ppl that it wasnt a tax hike

I'm thinking now that the Post heard what the Post wanted to hear -- or what the Post thought the public wanted to hear about those totally not extreme Republicans.

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