By John Feehery - 11/14/11 11:35 PM EST
I like Grover Norquist. He is a smart guy who has built an impressive organization, Americans for Tax Reform, that has served the conservative cause well over the last 25 years or so.
Grover has gone far in Washington by being unyielding in his opposition to increased tax revenue. His premise is simple: Washington is too big and spends too much. It doesn’t need any more money, and if it wants to balance the budget, it should cut spending.
So why in the world would a supercommittee deal that includes increased revenues be good for Grover Norquist? And how can so many Republicans who have signed the Norquist pledge betray their own principles and vote for such a package and hope to survive a GOP primary?
Here are five reasons:
Reform the tax code: Grover’s group is called Americans for Tax Reform, not Americans for No New Tax Revenue. The goal of ATR has been and continues to be fundamental tax reform. If the supercommittee reports a legislative proposal heavy on reform and light on revenue, that would be a huge victory for the GOP. Tax loopholes are every bit as bad for good governance as pork-barrel spending, and they cost the Treasury a lot more.
Reframe the debate: Let’s not lose sight of a simple fact. Democrats are the ones who are the tax increasers. A tax deal signed into law by President Obama will help to reframe the debate. Thus far, the president has been able to muddle this issue, signing an extension of the Bush tax cuts, speaking on behalf of “middle-class tax cuts,” all the while rhetorically beating the Republicans up for protecting cuts for the rich. A deal that includes revenue raisers will be easy to pin on Obama and should help the Republicans and Norquist to reframe this debate.
Refresh the argument: It is awfully hard to continue to be for tax cuts when the percentage of federal revenue hovers around a historical low of 14 percent. Fully half the country pays nothing in federal taxes, and there is a wide disparity in how corporations pay corporate taxes. Some multinationals pay almost nothing in federal taxes while many retail chains pay the full 35 percent tab. Everybody should pay something, and every business should be on the same competitive playing field. Being virulently anti-tax keeps absurd disparities in place that distort our economy. A tax deal helps to refresh the argument for Grover and for the Republicans in Congress.
Reform entitlements: I agree with Grover on one important point. We have to cut spending if we are to survive long-term as a superpower. But we can’t nibble around the edges on spending. Banning earmarks gets you to less than 1 percent of the total budget. We must reform entitlements, and the only way we can do that is with a deal that includes tax revenues. It is far better to get a bipartisan deal on entitlement spending cuts than for Republicans to do it alone. Grover says he wants to cut spending. A supercommittee deal that includes increased revenue will help to make that possible.
Refocus the mission: Because Grover has been so adamant about the revenue thing, he has had to take some embarrassing positions. For example, he had to defend ethanol subsidies in an argument with Tom Coburn earlier this year. Coburn said that the subsidies were corporate welfare and that they should be ended. Grover said that they were a tax cut and should be left alone or offset with other tax cuts. A tax reform deal will help ATR get away from having to defend tax code subsidies and help refocus the mission on fundamental reform.
I understand how interest groups work and how it never pays for them to compromise. But a grand bargain that delivers real tax reform would be good for Grover Norquist and good for the GOP.
Feehery is president of Quinn Gillespie Communications and spent 15 years working in the House Republican leadership. He is a contributor to The Hill’s Pundits Blog and blogs at thefeeherytheory.com.