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Grover Norquist To Erick Erickson: No Tax Pledge Makes Government Reform Possible

“When politicians say they won’t raise taxes, it has no effect. When they put it in writing, it makes a difference.”

At the Resurgent Gathering in Atlanta, Erick Erickson had a discussion with Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. ATR is an organization founded by Ronald Reagan in 1986, which, since 1994, has asked Republicans to take a pledge not to raise taxes. Norquist said that since the pledge was introduced, Republicans have won Congress two-thirds of the years. Because Republicans have pledged not to raise taxes, Norquist said, the alternative is to reform government.

Norquist’s new crusade is for single-rate taxation. A single tax rate would replace multiple levels of taxation for different income groups.

Both Massachusetts and Illinois currently single rate taxes. Norquist said that this has made it more difficult to raise taxes since any tax increase affects the entire population rather than pitting different segments of the population together. The 2017 Republican tax reform has moved in this direction, Norquist said.

“If you leave the option of a tax increase on the table, you never get to spending,” Norquist said. He pointed out that the spending battle between John Boehner and Barack Obama was an example of how spending negotiations should be handled. After Boehner’s Congress cut spending and refused to raise taxes, the share of the GDP consumed by the government went down from 24 percent to 20 percent.

Options are limited while Democrats control the House, Norquist said but added that there was a tactic that could be accomplished by executive action. This would be changing the capital gains tax to account for inflation. Norquist said that the other good thing that President Trump could do to lower taxation is to end the tariff war.  

When asked about Sen. Tim Scotts suggestion that Republicans should talk to minorities about the estate tax, Norquist said, “I think that the best thing that Republicans can do is talk to minorities about anything.” Just making connections with minority voters removes many barriers to voting for Republican candidates. Explaining how conservative policies can help them and Democratic policies have hurt them can remove even more barriers.

“They’ve been greatly damaged by the Democratic Party,” Norquist said, “but we do need to show up and say, ‘hi.’”

When it comes to sin taxes, Norquist criticized elected officials for “funding whole programs” with taxes on products that they want to go away. “Sin taxes are placeholders for other taxes” that will eventually replace them and become permanent, he added.

“When politicians say they won’t raise taxes, it has no effect,” Norquist said of ATR’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge. “When they put it in writing, it makes a difference.”

He cited the example of George H. W. Bush who pledged “Read my lips: No new taxes.” The first President Bush reneged on his promise and then lost his re-election battle to Bill Clinton.

When asked about recent Democratic complaints that Obama governed too conservatively, Norquist pointed out that after 2010, when Republicans took control of the House they effectively killed Obama’s agenda. “Obama didn’t want to cut spending,” Norquist said.

Looking to the future, Norquist said that he would like to see the corporate tax rate and individual tax rates lowered even further. He would also like to eliminate double taxation of Americans who work overseas. Norquist also warned that Democrats were persistently pursuing an energy tax and a value-added consumption tax.

“If we get that, I think we grind toward European levels of big government,” Norquist said, calling the VAT “a French word for ‘big government.’”

He warned that Democrats would try to sneak in new taxes by reducing existing taxes. Eventually, they would try to raise both taxes. One suggestion by some Democrats is to tax energy and then write rebate checks to everyone in the country.

“The government doesn’t make money,” he said, “but it makes everybody dependent on government.”

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