Grover Norquist, the most powerful unelected person in the United States by some measures — and a man who controls nearly every Republican in Congress, may have just thrown the game.
Here’s how it happened:
As you may have heard earlier, Norquist, the head of Americans for Tax Reform and author of the infamous “pledge” never to raise taxes, that is a sort of rite of passage for Congressional Republicans (tying their hands in any debt negotiation and effectively replacing their commitment to the people who elected them or to the country with fealty to Norquist) gave an interview to the Washington Post editorial board in which he stated that letting the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 expire would technically not violate the ATR pledge:
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.
When Democrats and liberal blogs pounced on the comment, Norquist and ATR hastily tried to walk it back, releasing a denial statement and even calling out House minority whip Steny Hoyer for allegedly mischaracterizing his remarks:
But here’s the problem: Karen Tumulty, a seasoned, respected reporter who was in the room, confirmed to the Wapo’s Greg Sargent that the statement printed by the Post was accurate.
Oh, and they got it on tape.
Funny thing, that.
So what should Democrats do now? Despite solid reporting that the president is still holding out for some kind of tax code reform, and presuming that such reforms will be passed before the Bush tax cuts expire in December 2012, I say Harry Reid should just shut it down. He could announce, tomorrow even, that the United States Senate will allow no votes to extend any of the Bush tax cuts, and no amendments extending the Bush tax cuts, for the remainder of the 112th Congress. He could announce that this will be the case regardless of what is negotiated by the White House, and regardless of the outcome of the 2012 Senate, House and presidential election. He could declare the tax increase debate to be over, since without a vote in the Senate, the Bush tax cuts will die, on schedule, on December 31, 2012. And as Ezra Klein pointed out on “The Last Word” Thursday night, just letting the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts expire would reduce the long term deficit by $3.6 trillion — more than triple what the president was allegedly offering in the way of revenues as part of a “grand bargain” with Republicans.
Dangerous brinksmanship? Maybe. But there’s nothing more dangerous than the prospect of extreme right wing ideology capturing enough of the House of Representatives to make default almost inevitable. With the tax cut debate over, the president could sit John Boehner down, and explain to him that there is nothing left to negotiate. A clean debt ceiling increase is the only way out. At the least, he’d be in a position to offer Boehner his help getting Reid to compromise on the tax cuts in exchange for a meaningful deal.
It’s not a perfect strategy, but we re indeed in a perfect mess.
It might be worth a shot.
And ratings agencies try to educate the freshmen