The head of the anti-tax taliban, Americans for Tax Reform's Grover Norquist, just blinked.
WITH A HANDFUL of exceptions, every Republican member of Congress has signed a pledge against increasing taxes. Would allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire as scheduled in 2012 violate this vow? We posed this question to Grover Norquist, its author and enforcer, and his answer was both surprising and encouraging: No.
In other words, according to Mr. Norquist's interpretation of the Americans for Tax Reform pledge, lawmakers have the technical leeway to bring in as much as $4 trillion in new tax revenue -- the cost of extending President George W. Bush's tax cuts for another decade -- without being accused of breaking their promise. "Not continuing a tax cut is not technically a tax increase," Mr. Norquist told us. So it doesn't violate the pledge? "We wouldn't hold it that way," he said.
Norquist later walked his statement back a hair. "Any changes in taxes should be kept separate from the budget deal," he said on MSNBC this morning. It's not extremely clear why it should be kept separate from debt limit negotiations, other than the fact that Norquist sensed he'd given away too much. Still, if doing away with Bush's high-end tax cuts doesn't violate the pledge, it doesn't violate the pledge.
Of course, as a conservative activist, Grover probably doesn't feel like he's under any obligation to be shackled by consistency. After all, he said pretty much the exact opposite about a year ago, so there's definitely a pivot here.
"Norquist doesn't want Bush's budget-busting tax cuts to expire, but that's not the point," explains Steve Benen. "Republican lawmakers are terrified of violating his pledge, and here's Norquist, on the record, saying GOP members can keep their word and allow a return to Clinton-era rates."
The fact that "Republican lawmakers are terrified of violating his pledge" should be disturbing to everyone. There's only one pledge that actually matters -- their oath of office -- and if it ever comes to a point where a pledge not to raise taxes and a pledge to "bear true faith and allegiance" to the US and Constitution and "faithfully discharge" their required duties, then there shouldn't be any question at all that the anti-tax pledge goes out the window. You don't get to throw the nation -- and the globe -- into economic turmoil because you once made a promise to a fanatical nutjob.
You do what's best for the nation, Grover's little pledge be damned.