Ask Washington Anything: Grover Norquist

The Republican answers questions about his lifelong anti-tax crusade in a new series from Reddit and The Atlantic.

“Stupider than France is not where we want to be on tax policy,” Grover Norquist says matter-of-factly in the interview above, for Atlantic Video's Ask Washington Anything series. Norquist, who founded and runs Americans for Tax Reform and was once called "the most powerful man in America" for his influence over Republican politics, shares many quotable sound bites as he tackles a series of questions submitted by members of Reddit's NeutralPolitics forum earlier this week. 

Striving for "evenhanded, empirical discussion of political issues," the community asked about topics like loopholes, capital gains, and Norquist's Taxpayer Protection Pledge. Although he answers these questions with gusto, the Republican has his suspicions about some users' mysterious names, asking with a raised eyebrow whether this interview might be like a scheme to fell Superman by tricking him into pronouncing a hidden word. 

What Is Ask Washington Anything?

The interview kicks off a new series called Ask Washington Anything, produced by Atlantic Video in partnership with Reddit. Inspired by the social media site's popular "Ask Me Anything" question-and-answer sessions, we've reached out to politicians and other Washington insiders to field queries from Reddit users. Our first three videos feature Norquist; Joe Manchin, Democratic senator from West Virginia; and Sam Kass, Executive Director for Let's Move! and former White House chef. 

How Does It Work? 

On Monday, Reddit's general manager Erik Martin invited the NeutralPolitics community to ask Grover Norquist anything. Twenty-four hours later, the forum's moderators gathered the top ten questions (thank you!) and on November 13, Norquist answered them on video. We're grateful to everyone who took time to submit questions and vote the best ones to the top. We'd also like to thank Erik and all the moderators for welcoming this experiment and making it possible. The top questions, voted up by the community and edited for length and style by the moderators, are: 

1. nosecohn asks: The US is a big country with diverse and shifting interests. This brings complexity and nuance to the issues our representatives deal with in Washington. Does the whole idea of asking them to "pledge" something before they're elected lead to good policy? It seems like the resulting inflexibility would be a hindrance to good governance.

2. nosecohn asks: You are quoted in a July 13th, 2011 interview on CNN as saying, "Every time we've cut the capital gains tax, the economy has grown. Whenever we raise the capital gains tax, it's been damaged." Politifact rates that statement as false, because it implies causation where none can be established. Would you like to amend the statement or explain why Politifact is wrong? As a corollary, why should capital gains continue to be taxed at a lower rate than labor or other forms of income?

3. xiefeilaga asks: Mr. Norquist, you are well known for advocating significant reductions in taxes, government spending and the overall size of government. If it were up to you, how much would you cut from next year's defense budget? How many troops would you cut from the military?

4. Obrien asks:  Can you name the most egregious tax loopholes that you're in favor of closing?

5. SantiagoRamon asks: Do you believe that there is ever a good time or reason to increase marginal tax rates on people and/or businesses, or are there absolutely no circumstances that would make that preferable to you?

6. Quarkism asks: As a small business, I pay an income tax of 35% whereas my big business counterparts pay a meek 15% in capital gains tax by way of sophisticated international accounting practices. Why should I vote Republican when the party supports a tax code and other governmental powers that put me at a disadvantage? Why do you not present a plan that closes unfair advantages / tax loopholes and have members of congress sign onto that?  

7. Brutuss asks: Which tax deductions would you like to see eliminated from the tax code as part of an effort to "simplify" things? Assuming that rates were also cut, but the net result was an increase in revenue, would you score this as a tax increase or a tax decrease?

8. omla asks: Of the 34 nations ranked by health expenditure in a 2013 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the United States spends the most at 17.7% of its GDP (based on 2011 data). It is more than France, Germany or the UK, which all have universal health care. How do you justify your stance opposing the regulation of health care considering the current comparatively large expenditure of your nation's GDP on health care?

9. NickWasHere09 asks: Your organization states that, "Americans for Tax Reform supports an all-of-the-above approach to powering America. Every source of energy should be allowed to compete on a level playing field." Can you expand upon ATR's goal of expanding America's energy supply?

10. Mr_Chekhov asks: How, if at all, do you think Republicans should change their campaign strategy if they want to win a majority in both houses in 2014/2016 and the Presidency in 2016?

What's That Handwritten Sign?

AMA contributors often take a photo of themselves with handmade signs to put a face to their typewritten answers (and provide identity verification). Bill Gates, for example, made a particularly nice sign for his AMA. We didn't technically need to verify any of the interviewees' identities since these conversations are captured on video—but we still thought the signs looked cool.

Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.

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