How Grover Norquist's Tax Pledge Trips Up Lawmakers

The anti-tax advocate believes in never raising business taxes -- which can be a problem when trying to get rid of wasteful ethanol subsidies

grover n full.jpg

You'd think that every fiscal conservative not subject to a corn belt electorate would thrill at the chance to cut $6 billion in ethanol subsidies. But not Grover Norquist. He knows they're bad policy -- that they distort the economy, raise food prices, and redistribute money to a special interest based on the political clout it wields. But Norquist is an anti-tax zealot. That isn't someone who opposes most tax hikes, or even someone who opposes almost every proposed tax hike. An anti-tax zealot is someone who specifically opposed efforts to end a costly boondoggle because doing so would have ended tax breaks for producers of corn-based ethanol, thereby constituting a tax increase. And tax increases aren't okay under any circumstances.

For the uninitiated, Norquist is the president of Americans for Tax Reform, and has long wielded a lot of clout in GOP politics and the conservative movement. The weekly meeting he hosts for right-leaning activists, politicians, and journalists is a DC institution. The Wall Street Journal's John Fund once called him the "Grand Central Station of conservatism." And he's the man behind The Pledge.

That's basically just a promise that Republican candidates are pressured to sign when they run for office. "Nationally there are 173 members of the U.S. House and 412 candidates for House seats who have signed the pledge," Norquist wrote in the run-up to last year's midterm elections, "and 33 sitting senators and 70 2010 candidates for the Senate as well as over 1,100 incumbent state legislators and nearly a thousand challengers for state legislative races have signed the pledge."

Here's the exact language:

I will: ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate for individuals and business; and TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.

See the problem? Ending ethanol subsidies is plainly a violation of The Pledge, because it increases taxes on some businesses.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), doing yeoman's work in his attempt to end the wasteful ag subsidy, definitely did violate his promise, as did various Republican colleagues who supported his amendment in a Tuesday Senate vote. Rather than keep quiet, however, Norquist called them out, and in doing so has drawn conspicuous attention to the fact that The Pledge is flawed.

In this case, it increased the chance that an absurd big government intervention into the free market would persist indefinitely (as has happened -- the Coburn amendment narrowly failed) because it artificially keeps taxes low.

Presented by

Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Politics

Just In