The pledge master

WASHINGTON — All hail Grover Norquist!

Bow down, Lindsey Graham. The Republican senator dared to say he might consider supporting a tax increase — but then Norquist paid him a visit on Wednesday. “Every once in a while you have somebody with an impure thought like Lindsey Graham,” Norquist told me. But after their talk, Norquist could report that “Graham will never vote for a tax increase.”

Kneel before him, Tom Coburn. Also a Republican senator, Coburn too had toyed with the idea of supporting a deficit-reduction deal that includes some tax increases, before Norquist conquered him. “He had a moment of weakness where he thought you had to raise taxes to get spending restraint,” Norquist said. “He now knows that’s not true.”

Prostrate yourselves, House Republicans. On Thursday, a day after Republican senators hosted Norquist on their side of the Capitol, Republican House members opened up the Ways and Means Committee room so that he could counsel them on The Pledge, an anti-tax edict written by Norquist and signed by all but four House Republicans, most Republican senators, and Mitt Romney.

Lawmakers leaving their private audience with Norquist were agog at his majesty. “I agree with him tremendously,” reported Rep. John Fleming, R-La.

But Sander Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Ways and Means committee, had a less favorable view of the spectacle as he stood in the hallway while Republicans in the committee room kissed Norquist’s ring.

“Ways and Means Republicans and others are holding royal court for a person who single-mindedly is determined to prevent a balanced approach to deficit reduction,” Levin complained. “Essentially, Norquist is here to hold feet to the fire when we need open minds.”

Norquist doesn’t dispute that. The tax-pledge effort he began a quarter-century ago is now the defining mantra of the party: no tax increases, no how, no way, no matter the consequences. With the possible exception of Newt Gingrich, Norquist has done more than anybody to bring about Washington’s political dysfunction.

Since he began, the federal debt has increased roughly eightfold. But Norquist still believes that as soon as next year victory will be his — all because of his pledge.

“Because almost all the Republicans took it, it became, actually, the branding of the party,” Norquist told me Thursday.

Though I think Norquist’s approach has been disastrous for the country, I am awed by his success with the pledge. Now Senate Democrats are trying to turn him into the GOP bogeyman of this election cycle.

“The leader of the Republican Party is up here today on the Hill … You know who it is: It’s Grover Norquist,” Majority Leader Harry Reid said at a news conference Thursday, a couple of days after charging, with some validity, that Norquist “has the entire Republican party in the palm of his hand.”

Norquist didn’t quarrel with the charge, as Fox News’ Chad Pergram put it to him, that he’s giving Republicans “their marching orders.”

“The modern Republican Party works with the taxpayer movement,” he replied, satisfied that “post-pledge, post-tea party, they’re not going to raise taxes.”

That’s likely because Norquist has convinced them that the long-sought victory is just months away. He predicts Republicans will keep control of the House, take over the Senate, elect Romney president and promptly enact the Ryan budget. “It would be nice if some Democrats join, but it’s not necessary,” he said, arguing that the Ryan plan could clear the Senate with only 50 votes as part of the budget “reconciliation” process.

This seems unlikely. Even if they could use the procedure Norquist favors (anti-deficit rules make this difficult) Republicans would have to make their plan temporary, like the Bush tax cuts. And the backlash would likely make the Obamacare rebellion look tame. We’d quickly be back in the stalemate.

But Norquist’s loyalists in Congress are maintaining their ranks, dutifully coordinating talking points with him after their private tutorial Thursday on “how the pledge should be communicated.”

“We have a spending problem and the taxpayer pledge helps us focus on the problem,” House conservative leader Jim Jordan of Ohio told reporters as he departed.

Finally, out came the 55-year-old Norquist, all of 5-foot-6 with a graying beard. He spoke expansively to reporters for more than half an hour, waving off the notion that he might be becoming a PR problem for the party.

“There are significantly more Republicans in Congress since they started taking the pledge,” he said. “The advocates of spending more and taxing more are losing.”

Losing? Or just locked in an unending blood feud?

Dana Milbank is a Washington Post columnist. His email address is danamilbank@washpost.com.

Talk to us

More in Opinion

toon
Editorial cartoons for Thursday, April 15

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

FILE - In this undated photo, provided by NY Governor's Press Office on Saturday March 27, 2021, is the new "Excelsior Pass" app, a digital pass that people can download to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. Vaccine passports being developed to verify COVID-19 immunization status and allow inoculated people to more freely travel, shop and dine have become the latest flash point in America’s perpetual political wars, with Republicans portraying them as a heavy-handed intrusion into personal freedom and private health choices. (NY Governor's Press Office via AP, File)
Editorial: Vaccine passports can nudge more toward immunity

Used to persuade rather than exclude, the passports could increase access to businesses and venues.

Comment: Low-carbon fuel standard is too costly and won’t work

Similar standards in California and Oregon have increased fuel prices but haven’t reduced emissions.

Comment: Post-covid, work-from-home advocates face challenges

Employers may seem open to hybrid arrangements, but those may prove to be the worst of both worlds.

Comment: Pop culture’s role in confronting racism

The introduction of a Black character in ‘Peanuts’ in 1968 sparked inclusion in other popular media.

Harrop: QAnon beliefs should bar followers from teaching

It’s not about politics; it’s about whether someone so divorced from reality should teach children.

toon
Editorial cartoons for Wednesday, April 14

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Eric Brossard displays his commemorative Drug Court graduation coin that reads, "I came with hope, worked and learned. I have a new life. A life that I've earned." (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Editorial: Court ruling requires focus on addiction treatment

A court decision allows for a more effective and affordable solution to substance use disorder.

An architectual illustration shows the proposed Learning Resource Center at Everett Community College. The centerAn architectual illustration shows the proposed Learning Resource Center at Everett Community College. The center would replace the college's Libary Media Center, built in 1988. The Senate capital budget proposal allocates $48 million for its construction, while the House budget includes no funding for it. (Courtesy of Everett Community College) would replace the college's
Editorial: Capital budget a bipartisan boost for communities

House and Senate proposals are substantial and needed, but final talks should secure an EvCC project.

Most Read