Hey, Republicans: It’s OK to raise taxes. Or, at least, it’s OK to let the massive Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy expire. Grover Norquist says so.
That’s the message a top Senate Democrat delivered Thursday on the Senate floor, in the midst of Washington’s ongoing budget battle.
“In a major development, anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist told the Washington Post that letting the Bush tax cuts lapse would not constitute a tax hike,” says Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, the third-highest ranking Senate Democrat.
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The president of the organization Americans for Tax Reform, Norquist has been described as “the driving force in pushing the Republican Party toward an ever-more rigid position of opposing any tax increase, of any kind, at any time, under any circumstances.”
Norquist also helped Republican Rep. Newt Gingrich write the “Contract With America” in 1994 which helped vault the GOP to take over the House for the first time in 40 years.
Most of the Republicans in Congress have signed on to Norquist’s pledge of no tax increases. Norquist has enforced his pledge strictly, taking on even Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), as rock-ribbed a conservative as there is, over it.
So the fact that Norquist would not consider a rollback of the tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush to constitute a tax increase is big news, as Schumer indicated.
“This is a development the significance of which should not be underestimated,” he says. “It is a recognition from Norquist that the House Republicans are increasingly isolated, and have painted themselves into a corner. Norquist is trying to signal to the House GOP that their no-compromise position is untenable, deteriorating, and bad for their party and the country.”
House Republicans have come out repeatedly against any tax-revenue increases as part of any deal with President Obama and Democrats to reduce the federal budget deficit ahead of an expected August 2 default by the federal government.
However, as the “hall monitor when it comes to enforcing the Republican party’s anti-tax pledge,” Norquist has given House Republicans a “hall pass,” Schumer says.
“They should use it,” the senator adds. “This is a coded message from one of the truest believers in the Republican Party that it’s time for conservatives to step back from the brink.”
The repeal of Bush-era tax cuts could raise enough federal revenue toward deficit reduction to avoid painful cuts to key federal programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, an independent Washington think tank, finds that the Bush tax cuts — along with paying for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — will contribute $7 trillion toward the budget deficit through 2019.
“Norquist has given us a potential path forward,” Schumer says. “If we decoupled the Bush tax cuts by only extending them for the middle class, and not for the millionaires and billionaires, we could have a deal that includes revenues but doesn’t violate the anti-tax pledge. Everyone wins.”
Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.