The Strange World of Grover Norquist

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Did the anti-tax activist misspeak when he chatted to the Washington Post, or is the following weirdness his considered position? From the Post's editorial:

With an 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.

Who knew?  Shortly after,  Norquist issued a clarification:

ATR opposes all tax increases on the American people.  Any failure to extend or make permanent the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, in whole or in part, would clearly increase taxes on the American people.

So he's against this $4 trillion tax increase--but his tax pledge, strictly speaking, doesn't rule it out. That does seem strange. What is it about "oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate" that I am failing to understand? Signatories of the pledge have promised not to reduce tax deductions (expenditures)  by so much as one net dollar. But they haven't promised to stop marginal rates returning to pre-Bush levels, which would raise a net $4 trillion. On what planet does that make sense?

Norquist's pledge would seem to be a pretty incompetent piece of work, from his own point of view. But look, that's fine. We need the extra revenues.



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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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