Grover Norquist And The Super Committee — Who’s Really In Charge?

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November 15, 2011 11:52 a.m.

About a week ago, Republicans on the Super Committee offered Democrats a plan they themselves claimed would raise new tax revenues. Setting aside specifics, Democrats treated it as a crack in the dam — the first indication the GOP’s alliance with anti-tax activists was starting to crumble.

Democrats ultimately rejected it. But so too did Grover Norquist, which suggests it really did violate his pledge (which most Republicans have taken) never to raise effective tax rates. Fast forward to Monday, Norquist told The Hill, “I’ve talked to the House leadership and the Senate leadership. They’re not going to be passing any tax increases…. If Republicans raise taxes now, they don’t win the Senate, and if Republicans raise taxes now they might not keep the House.”

Logically, this means one of four things:

1). Norquist isn’t telling the truth about what GOP leaders are telling him;

2) GOP leaders aren’t telling Norquist the truth about their intentions, or, at least, the state of negotiations; or

3). Ummm… oops!

4). Republicans aren’t being honest with Democrats and the public about putting revenue on the table.

Forget what you’d like the reality to be. What you’re seeing here — and what you’ve been seeing for the last several weeks — is evidence that at least one part of the Dems’ abysmal debt limit strategy is actually working. The automatic defense cuts scheduled to kick in just over a year from now if the GOP doesn’t break with Norquist are suddenly a real, unacceptable risk to many Republicans.

That growing tension between different GOP factions — one many conservatives saw coming — was a key part of the Democrats’ design. Now it’s happening pretty much according to plan and Republicans don’t really have a good response. Some want to dismantle the automatic defense cuts — Democrats won’t let them. Others claim that Democrats set this up to fail — a charge Democrats rebut by pointing to a long public record of offering cuts to entitlement programs if the GOP parts ways with Norquist. Yet more are trying to disguise higher tax revenues in a way that will appease both Norquist and the Democrats — but that’s an impossible feat of policy gymnastics.

Democrats would obviously have preferred it if Republicans had agreed to higher taxes outright during the debt limit fight. But this was the next best thing. And barring an epic Democratic cave, we’ll get to see in the next few days which conservative sacred cow gets slaughtered and what that does to the restive GOP coalition.

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