Grover Norquist, head of the anti-tax advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), denied being a powerful figure in Washington, D.C., these days, but said that “the tax issue is a powerful issue,” in a Sunday interview on CBS' “60 Minutes.” Norquist also explained how he fought to “brand” the Republican Party with opposition to tax increases, and strives to maintain that brand.
Norquist explained how he came up with the idea of establishing an anti-tax brand for the Republican Party when he was 12-years-old and working on a Nixon presidential campaign.
“If the parties would brand themselves, the way Coke and Pepsi and other products do, so that you knew what you were buying in quality control,” Norquist said, then voters will understand what they are getting when they vote Republican. “I'll buy one, I'll take that one home.”
The centerpiece of Norquist's branding strategy is ATR's “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” which all members of Congress are asked to sign. Nearly every Republican in the House and most Republicans in the Senate have signed the pledge to not raise taxes.
The “pledge,” according to Norquist, is a type of “quality control” to protect the Republican brand. Coke maintains quality control, Norquist explains, because if someone were to find a rat head in their Coke, it would destroy the brand and few would buy their product.
Similarly, “Republicans who vote for a tax increase are rat heads in a Coke bottle. They damage the brand for everyone else.”
More recently, Norquist has butted heads with some Republicans who, in general, support cutting taxes, but believe some tax increases may be necessary to strike a bargain with Democrats that would reform the tax code and reduce budget deficits.
Former Republican Senator Alan Simpson co-chaired the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which recommended $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years, including close to $900 billion in additional revenue. While overall tax rates would be lowered, the additional revenue would come from eliminating some tax deductions and credits. Norquist considers support for this type of tax reform unacceptable.
On “60 Minutes,” Simpson said Norquist is a, “megalomaniac, egomaniac, whatever his goal, he's damn near there.
“And he ought to run for president, because that would be his platform – no taxes under any situation, even if your country goes to hell.”
Norquist was also critical of Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey for offering a proposal similar to Simpson's as a member of the Joint Select Committee for Deficit Reduction, or “supercommittee.”
Though the supercommittee failed to come up with $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction this week, the most significant breakthrough was when Toomey made an offer to raise about $250 billion in additional revenue above current tax rates. Like Simpson, Toomey would do it by reforming the tax code and lowering overall rates.
Norquist called Toomey's proposal at the time a “unicorn.” “It does not exist in the real world. Comments on how pretty the unicorn is are people playing with their imaginations.”
Since the supercommittee did not come up with a deficit reduction bill, ironically, Norquist may be getting what he wants least – tax increases.
The Bush-era tax cuts, which were extended under Obama in 2010, are set to expire at the end of 2012. If a proposal similar to Toomey's or Simpson's had been signed into law, some people would pay more in taxes in 2013, but they would still be paying less than they would under current law when the tax cuts expire.
The Taxpayer Protection Pledge benefits Republican congressmen, Norquists insists, because, “if they sign it, and keep it, they win the primary, they win the general, they get to govern, and I've helped make all this possible.”