Grover Norquist is the most tenacious anti-tax warrior in the conservative movement. No lobbyist whips Republican elected officials into line as effectively. Privately, both Republicans and Democrats admit that his Taxpayer Protection Pledge is the single biggest obstacle to effective governing in Washington.
But as frustration over congressional gridlock gives way to panic over fiscal armageddon in January, more and more Republicans are publicly breaking ranks with the anti-tax movement and publicly disavowing their pledge never to raise a cent of new revenue. At the same time, Norquist can boast accurately that despite deadly politics, and dangerous legislative brinksmanship, Republicans haven’t yielded — and thus 2011 passed with zero dollars in new tax revenue paired with trillions of dollars of cuts to federal programs.
Which raises a natural question: Is Republican commitment to Grover’s cause so deep that they’d rather plummet the country to the bottom of the fiscal cliff than allow taxes to rise, or will they hit the brakes and throw Grover over the edge instead?
Several days ago, multiple Democratic sources alerted me and other reporters to an event House Republicans — conservatives and tax bill writers — had planned for Thursday in the Longworth House Office Building with the man himself. He was invited to answer questions about the pledge nearly every member of the conference had signed. If the pledge is as straightforward as Grover insists, his visit suggests some Republicans are seeking flexibility ahead of the rough fight awaiting them at the end of the year.
“I understand that Mr. Norquist is going to come up here and he’ll have a conversation about [the pledge],” admitted House Speaker John Boehner. “I’ve been around the political process for a long time. I’ve never voted to raise taxes. But we’ve got a big job to do. I’m not interested in raising taxes. But they can discuss whether loophole closings are tax increases — I hope they resolve it all actually.”
Norquist is a human fountain of self-ratification. The only assumptions he entertains have his movement in ascent. He interprets all events as validations of his team’s worldview. That means means all Democratic woes can be traced back to his pet issue.
“Nancy Pelosi lost her majority in the House because she wanted to raise taxes to pay for Obama’s big government and she made her congressmen vote for that,” he said. “That’s not a PR problem — that’s a political disaster for the Democrats. On the Senate side they lost a great deal of Senate seats, and they’re about to lose more going in this next election because they’re the party of higher taxes to pay for bigger, unreformed government.”