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Republicans Get Serious, Abandon Norquist Pledge

Aside from the comfort of Barack Obama's intelligent and democratic leadership of the free world for four more years, a great benefit of his re-election may be the demise of Grover Norquist. Norquist, whose anarcho-capitalist goal is to shrink and ultimately destroy government, has enticed, coerced, and/or black-mailed politicians into signing his fiscally irresponsible no-new-taxes pledge since 1986. He fancies himself a king-maker and king-breaker.

Since the November 6 election, four prominent Republicans in Congress have signaled their willingness to break the no-new-taxes pledge. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee reminds us that our leaders swear an oath to serve the country, not Grover Norquist. Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia says he cares more about his country and solving the national debt than about some 20-year-old pledge. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina strikes the same patriotic and practical note. Rep. Peter King of New York compares the Norquist pledge to declaring war on Japan: it made sense years ago after Pearl Harbor, but it doesn't make sense now.

If more Republicans need a shot of courage to follow Corker, Chambliss, Graham, and King toward fiscal sensibility, they should read Warren Buffett. As a rich guy, he's qualified to pronounce on the thesis of Norquist's anti-tax pledge, that any increase in taxes will stop investment and economic growth cold. Buffett says Norquist is imagining things:

Between 1951 and 1954, when the capital gains rate was 25 percent and marginal rates on dividends reached 91 percent in extreme cases, I sold securities and did pretty well. In the years from 1956 to 1969, the top marginal rate fell modestly, but was still a lofty 70 percent — and the tax rate on capital gains inched up to 27.5 percent. I was managing funds for investors then. Never did anyone mention taxes as a reason to forgo an investment opportunity that I offered.

Under those burdensome rates, moreover, both employment and the gross domestic product (a measure of the nation’s economic output) increased at a rapid clip. The middle class and the rich alike gained ground.

So let’s forget about the rich and ultrarich going on strike and stuffing their ample funds under their mattresses if — gasp — capital gains rates and ordinary income rates are increased. The ultrarich, including me, will forever pursue investment opportunities [Warren Buffett, "A Minimum Tax for the Wealthy," New York Times, 2012.11.25].

Breaking Grover Norquist's anti-tax pledge won't make Republicans irrelevant. It will make them more relevant as practical problem-solvers. Increasing tax revenues won't make government bigger. It will pay for the government tab we've already run up.

Norquist's tyrannical agitations and power-seeking hyperbole have kept Republicans from supporting obvious, sensible, and just tax policy for two decades. It's time to drown Norquist's power in a bathtub and solve the debt.

Reminder: Senator John Thune, Congresswoman Kristi Noem, and a whopping seven members of the South Dakota Legislature have signed Norquist's pledge.


  1. Owen Reitzel 2012.11.27

    Maybe the media in this state should ask Thune and Noem are now dropping the pledge. I'm sure they're waiting to see which way the winds will blow before deciding.

  2. Ryan 2012.11.27

    I for one agree that signing these pledges is an admission that they don't have enough self control. There are no asterisks by the pledge that gives them an out based on reforms or emergencies. The voters can decide whether they acted in their best interests at election time. Putting this toothpaste back in the tube is going to look a lot worse than simply refusing to sign it.

  3. Bill Fleming 2012.11.27

    My position on the pledges is that they are unconstitutional in the sense that they transcend the powers granted to Congress by limiting (actually eliminating) their taxing authority, thus making fealty to their oath to uphold the Constitution impossible. (i.e. taking it to it's logical conclusion, if everyone took it, Congress would no longer have the power to tax.)

  4. Ken Santema 2012.11.27

    This is a pledge the Reps just can't break. Even those that haven't taken the pledge shouldn't break it. Increasing taxes says its OK for government to keep spending recklessly. The pledge has nothing to do with Norquist, it has to do with keeping the Republic economically viable. Raising taxes is a cop out for politicians that don't want to make tough decisions about where to make financial cuts. There are so many places the budget can be cut: cut military spending, eliminate the TSA, phase out the failed DOE, end the failed drug on wars, etc... Raising taxes does nothing but expand failed big government programs.

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.11.27

    No, Ken, raising taxes can also pay down the debts we've already incurred, also known as responsibility. Didn't Simpson-Bowles call for a combo of tax increases and spending cuts?

  6. Ken Santema 2012.11.27

    SB did call for a combination. However the cuts were minimal, and many of these cuts were actually a reduction of future increases (not the same as a cut). It is far more responsible to refrain from incurring debt than to keep taking money from citizens to pay for politicians with spending problems.

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.11.27

    Blog neighbor John Nelson suggest Grover Norquist is today's Joe McCarthy.

    Ken, sure, if we are spending more than we have, we need to cut our spending. But tell me why it is not desirable or responsible to increase taxes in order to pay for the things we already bought?

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.11.28

    Hey, Owen! The media is asking! Your neighbor Tom Lawrence called Noem and Thune. Both said they are sticking with Grover's guns to their heads... although their responses are sufficiently mealy-mouthed that it's hard to tell how committed they are to the pledge.

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