Wiggle Room For Grover? Norquist Can’t Quite Say ‘Hell No’ To New Revenue

Grover Norquist has walked the razor’s edge in the debate over debt and deficits, warning Republicans not allow any deal that raises tax revenues to pass the House and Senate. But he can’t quite bring himself to say that voting for such a package would run afoul of his inviolate pledge.

Here’s Norquist in the New York Times today: “My position, and the implications of the pledge regarding such “temporary” tax cuts, is clear,” he said referring to the Bush tax cuts which expire automatically if Congress does nothing. “If there were no vote in Congress and taxes rose automatically, then no politicians would have voted for higher taxes and no elected official would have broken his or her pledge.”

But that is different from supporting a plan by some Democrats that would end some or all of these lower tax rates, higher per-child tax credits and the A.M.T. patches — policies that, by the way, Congress has extended repeatedly with bipartisan support. It is difficult to see how such a package would fail to violate the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.

Emphasis added. Maybe he needs to see the details. Maybe he could bless a plan like this if it included matching tax cuts elsewhere. But he’s leaving himself plenty of wiggle room.

In a statement yesterday, Norquist noted that if the Bush tax cuts aren’t made permanent, it will result in a tax increase. To that, he said, “It is a violation of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge to trade temporary tax reductions for permanent tax hikes.”

The wording here’s a little inscrutable. Seems like he’s saying that allowing some of the (temporary) Bush tax cuts to (permanently) expire is a by definition a violation. But it can be read another way, too: No offsetting a tax increase with a temporary cut (like, perhaps, to the payroll tax), even if they add up to zero over the 10 year budget window. And if that’s what he’s talking about then he’s dodging the pressing question in the debate over tax reform.