• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Subscribe
  • RSS

Republican Congressman Takes on Grover Norquist

Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) took to the floor yesterday to lambaste Grover Norquist and his influence over the GOP.

Wolf (“Grover Norquist’s Relationships Should Give People Pause“):

In a speech today on the House floor, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) expressed concern about Grover Norquist’s influence on the political process in Washington and his association with several individuals, groups and causes many would consider unsavory.

Wolf questioned Norquist’s relationship with convicted felon Jack Abramoff and terrorist financiers Abdurahman Alamoudi and Sami Al-Arian.  He also raised the issue of Norquist’s advocacy of moving Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States, including 9/11 mastermind Khaled Sheik Mohammed, and his representation of the Internet gambling industry and Fannie Mae.

Norquist is the head of Americans For Tax Reform (ATR) and author of the organization’s anti-tax pledge.  Wolf’s concern is not with ATR’s goals but with Norquist being the sole interpreter and enforcer of the pledge, especially given his history with questionable individuals and groups.

“I want to be clear: I raise these issues not just because Mr. Norquist’s associates may be unsavory people,” Wolf said.  “There are many lobbyists in Washington who represent clients of all stripes and backgrounds.  But my concern arises when the appearances of impropriety are raised over and over again with a person who has such influence over public policy.  That, I believe, should give any fair-minded person pause.”

Wolf raised the issue in the context of working to solve the debt crisis facing the nation, stating that he believe the “pledge” is thwarting every good faith effort to reforming the nation’s tax code and ridding it of the special interest loopholes and earmarks.

Wolf pointed to Norquist’s opposition to Senator Tom Coburn’s attempt this summer to eliminate the special interest ethanol tax subsidy as an example.

“Have we really reached a point where one person’s demand for ideological purity is paralyzing Congress to the point that even a discussion of tax reform is viewed as breaking a no-tax pledge?” Wolf asked.

Wolf closed his five-minute floor speech by quoting British parliamentarian and abolitionist William Wilberforce, saying “having heard all of this, you may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”

Wolf was my Congressman for the first three years I lived in Virginia. (Because of its population density and some odd districting, the DC suburbs and exurbs of Northern Virginia are broken up into three districts, and I’ve lived in all of them at some point over the last nine years.) What prompted this speech yesterday, given that the Abramoff case was years ago and the agenda of ATR hasn’t changed much over the years, I don’t know. But Wolf is largely right here.

The scandal involving Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay, Rick Santorum, Grover Norquist, and the K Street Project was a major embarrassment for the Republican Party. Not only were key GOP leaders involved in shady–and occasionally illegal–dealings, but they belied their alleged small government principles in their scheme to raise and spend more money on their political machine.

Norquist’s odd dealings with the Middle East are more complicated. His wife, Samah Alrayyes, is Palestinian and this gives him some unusual allegiances. [Actually, the causal link here is less than I thought. He and Alrayyes married in 2004. He co-founded the Islamic Free Market Institute, of which she served as communications director, in 1998.] This has mostly led him in the right direction, away from dogged subservience to the Likudist view of Israeli relations with the region, toward getting American troops out of Afghanistan, and away from demonizing Muslims (he was a stanch advocate of the so-called Ground Zero mosque). But relationships in that part of the world are, well, complicated with people who are arguably good guys having relationships with Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and others who are less than savory.

Ultimately, my issue with Norquist has to do with the last point Wolf emphasized: the dogmatism of his anti-tax position. Wolf gets this right, I think:

America is in trouble.  Unemployment is over 9 percent.  Housing values continue to decline.  Retirement accounts are threatened.  The American people are worried.  Yet, Washington is tragically shackled in ideological gridlock.

Some are dead-set against any change to entitlement programs, while others insist that any discussion of tax policy is off the table.

We are at a point today that the tsunami of debt in America demands that every piece of the budget be scrutinized – and that means more than just cutting waste, fraud and abuse and discretionary programs.

The real runaway spending is occurring in our out-of-control entitlement costs and the hundreds of billions in annual tax earmarks in our tax code.  Until we reach an agreement that addresses these two drivers of our deficit and debts, we cannot right our fiscal ship of state.

Everything must be on the table and I believe how the “pledge” is interpreted and enforced by Mr. Norquist is a roadblock to realistically reforming our tax code.

When Senator Tom Coburn recently called for eliminating the special interest ethanol tax subsidy, who led the opposition? Mr. Norquist.

Have we already forgotten the battle over earmarks from last year?  Unlike an earmark included in an annual appropriations bill, “tax earmarks” are far worse because once enacted they typically exist in perpetuity.

Have we really reached a point where one person’s demand for ideological purity is paralyzing Congress to the point that even a discussion of tax reform is viewed as breaking a no-tax pledge?

Like Wolf, my default position is that income tax rates should be low. But Norquist takes it to absurd lengths, treating even the closing of loopholes he personally finds objectionable as tax hikes that need to be offset with reductions elsewhere. That’s just crazy and destructive.

Related Posts:

About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. superdestroyer says:

    Norquist always fails when it comes times to discuss spending cuts. Tax cuts or even maintaining current tax rates cannot occur unless spending cuts occur. Yet, the ATR and other refuse to ever mention spending cuts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  2. Hey Norm says:

    If you are not willing to talk about tax increases you are not serious about the debt. Wolf is an outlier in a party that has veered so far to the extreme in reaction to a centrist President that it is incapable of governing responsibly. In spite all the rhetoric it is clear the Teavangelicals are not serious about the debt or doing what is right for this country.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  3. john personna says:

    Michael Lewis did a few minutes on Morning Joe yesterday, talking about this article (California and Bust) which I haven’t read yet. His claim is that Californians, and more generally Americans, have gotten what they wanted. They wanted government services, but low taxes. They ultimately wanted, he says, the deficits and debts.

    Some of us have argued similar here. I guess the key thing is how much “math” you expect the “default low taxes” people to have, and how much patience you have for “it’s not a tax problem, it’s a spending problem” nonsense.

    My problem with Norquist has always been that he is an unthinking tax cutter, he doesn’t even try to put tax in a spending context. For him it has been “I don’t care, as long as taxes are cut.”

    The questions of tax and spending always go together, when you split them Norquist-style you get what we’ve got.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  4. Moosebreath says:

    Primary challenge coming in 3…2…1…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  5. Andyman says:

    Even Robespierre got the guillotine eventually.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  6. Jay Tea says:

    @Hey Norm: If you are not willing to talk about tax increases you are not serious about the debt.

    If you’re arguing that the fundamental problem with the federal budget is “the federal government doesn’t take enough money; we need to take more,” then you are not serious about reality.

    J.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 18

  7. Stan says:

    @Jay Tea: Roughly two thirds of the federal budget is spent on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Defense, retirement and health benefits for former members of the military, and interest on the national debt. Bearing in mind that interest on the national debt is an obligation that can’t be evaded, how much of the rest are you willing to cut, and how will your cuts be made?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  8. john personna says:

    @Jay Tea:

    That’s not what he said, Jay. We are back to the “can you bargain?” question.

    Remember the “would you take 10 spending cuts for 1 tax increase” and the EPIC FAIL of GOP candidates?

    Their fall-back argument, later, was “you can never believe spending cuts.” That’s pretty ridiculous. They (you) would have us believe two contradictory things at the same time – that spending is the problem, but it can’t be cut.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  9. ponce says:

    crazy and destructive

    A good motto for today’s Republican Party.

    Let’s hope this is a sign they’ve hit rock bottom.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  10. WR says:

    @Stan: Don’t be mean to Jay Tea. He’s already explained multiple times that he thinks we should eliminate the department of education. After that, the budget will balance itself.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  11. Jay Tea says:

    @WR: You worthless git, every time I’ve said that, I’ve called it “a good start.” Let’s also take a huge hunk of the budget away from the Department of Energy — if they’ve got money to piss away on idiocies like Solyndra, then they obviously have too much money. The Department of Labor is keeping Boeing from opening a plant in South Carolina and hiring a couple thousand workers at good jobs– let’s take away a hunk of their budget, too. The ATF seems more intent in committing acts of war by arming Mexican drug cartels than doing anything worthwhile, so let’s abolish them.

    There’s plenty of room in the federal budget to swing a meat cleaver and still not cut anything but fat. There are some examples. Instead, Obama’s idea of “compromise” is to use tweezers, while confiscating more and more and more money from those who have the effrontery to actually have some.

    Now back to your kennel, lickspittle.

    J.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 15

  12. Jay Tea says:

    @Stan: See above. And there’s plenty of room for trimming in the areas you mentioned. For example, aid to the poor.

    Don’t get hysterical, hear me out.

    I recall back during the S-CHIP debate, eligibility was being defined not by families at the poverty line, but at MULTIPLES of the line. If you make 3 or 4 times the poverty line, you’re not that poor.

    Second, what exactly is the definition of “poverty?” I’ve seen quite a few “poor” people with cars, big TVs, smart phones, and really stylin’ clothes. Plus plenty of bling and tats. If you have that kind of disposable income, you don’t need my money more than I do.

    Note I’m not saying “get rid of all of it.” I’m saying “get real and prioritize.”

    Also, ever looked at the incredible surge in Social Security Disability claims? That started right after Bill Clinton signed welfare reform. Why, it’s almost like a whole bunch of people realized they weren’t going to get their free money any more that way, so they found another. And with Social Security workers incentivized to grant claims than deny them (more cases means bigger budgets), it worked out quite nicely.

    Lawrence, Massachusetts used to be the auto insurance fraud capital of the nation. Every single crash had at least five people claiming serious injury or disability — and often going on the government dole. It took private insurance companies and the death of a woman in a staged crash to crack down on that scam — as long as it was only people ripping off the government and no one getting killed, no one cared.

    Here’s a suggestion: send auditors into all these entitlement programs, with a bonus plan: they get 1% of all fraud or abuse or waste they uncover, capped at, say, $500,000. Once it’s verified, cut ‘em a check. Once they hit the cap, give ‘em a gold ribbon and ask if they know anyone else interested in making some serious bucks.

    And no, WR, you gibbering dolt, it won’t solve everything. But it’ll do a lot more good than “let’s throw even more money we don’t have at the problem, and hope it gets better!”

    J.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 8

  13. reid says:

    @Jay Tea: Ha, that’s great. We can’t even consider eliminating the temporary tax cuts for the wealthy, but we can go after all of those lying, cheating poor people! And you talk about prioritizing….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  14. Moosebreath says:

    Jay Tea,

    “If you’re arguing that the fundamental problem with the federal budget is “the federal government doesn’t take enough money; we need to take more,” then you are not serious about reality.”

    Since tax receipts as a percentage of GDP is at a half-century low, the person who needs to get serious about reality is you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  15. Andre Kenji says:

    “There’s plenty of room in the federal budget to swing a meat cleaver and still not cut anything but fat.”

    Most of the fat is in Military Spending, Social Security and Medicare. It´s simply insane how there is no control over Medicare spending(Yes, that should mean rationing).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  16. James says:

    @Jay Tea:

    Second, what exactly is the definition of “poverty?” I’ve seen quite a few “poor” people with cars, big TVs, smart phones, and really stylin’ clothes. Plus plenty of bling and tats. If you have that kind of disposable income, you don’t need my money more than I do.

    Well Jay, the census bureau’s methodology of poverty can be found here, which defines a single person with an annual income of $10,956 or less to be poor. As it stands, “one in seven or 15.1 percent of Americans were poor in 2010, up from 14.3 percent in 2009. The last time the poverty rate hit 15.1 percent was in 1993. Since 1965, the poverty rate has surpassed 15.1 percent only once, in 1983, when it stood at 15.2 percent. The number of Americans with incomes below the official poverty line ($22,314 for a family of four) rose by 2.6 million in 2010 to 46.2 million.”

    But I find your description of the poor as citizens of a rap video very compelling as well.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  17. Jay Tea says:

    @Moosebreath: The fundamental assumption under your statement is that “government should always get bigger.” I reject that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 8

  18. James says:

    @Jay Tea:

    Um, no. The Mossebreath’s fundamental statement was that tax receipts to GDP are historically low due to the massive recession we’re still recovering from. This might cause a non-ideologue to consider increasing tax revenue as a way to help the 46.2 million American’s now living below the poverty line (also partly because of the massive recession we’re still recovering from).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  19. Fiona says:

    I’m glad to see at least one Republican Congressional Rep with the balls to take on Norquist. No one person should have so much power over government policy. Sadly, I’m not hopeful that more of Wolf’s Republican colleagues will join him in standing up to Grover.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  20. john personna says:

    @Jay Tea:

    “government should always get bigger.” I reject that.

    If countries always get richer (and they do), then government can grow, services can expand, while taking at the same time the same rate of tax.

    Note that what we’ve tried to do, what this thread is about, is CUT taxes while expanding services.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  21. Moosebreath says:

    James,

    “The Mossebreath’s fundamental statement was that tax receipts to GDP are historically low due to the massive recession we’re still recovering from.”

    Two rounds of tax reductions in the prior decade, aimed at high-income earners and those who get most of their income from capital gains, also had a bit to do with it.

    Jay Tea,

    As the number of people living in a country grows, and as there is inflation, keeping tax revenues constant means providing a lower level of services to all citizens. If you think that is the prudent course, I would suggest going supporting candidates who advocate it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  22. reid says:

    @Fiona: Especially one who is such an inflexible ideologue. Just imagine if there was someone so equivalently, radically far out on the left who had so much clout with the Democrats. That’s an indication how far to the right this country has swung, despite the dreaded liberal media and all of the marxists running things (snicker).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  23. MM says:

    @Jay Tea: If you resort to arguing with a strawman, you’re Jay Tea.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0