What Is Up With Grover Norquist?

July 21, 2011 7:43 a.m.

Everyone knows that Grover Norquist has long held most of Republican Washington by the short hairs with his no-tax-increases pledge. So any debt ceiling deal that includes tax increases is practically DOA for Republicans, almost all of whom have signed Grover’s pledge.

It may be bad policy. It may give Grover ridiculously outsized influence. But it’s pretty clear cut.

Except Grover has muddied the waters again, telling the Washington Post editorial board that allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire wouldn’t constitute a violation of the no-tax-increase pledge. Hard to figure how you can square that circle, but it suggests Grover is giving his pledgees an out — even though Grover said this morning on TV that he wasn’t giving anyone an out. I don’t believe it.

Grover is a smart guy. He doesn’t misspeak. For what it’s worth, this is the second time in a week that he’s clearly indicated his support for a debt deal or components of a debt deal, only to kinda, sorta backtrack later.

Grover answers to some very powerful people. His outfit, Americans For Tax Reform, has long taken in big bucks from corporate players and turned around and advocated for policies, including but not limited to tax policies, favored by those same business interests. That’s his business model. The contributions don’t have to be disclosed, but there’s nothing illegal about the arrangement. It’s one the national Chamber of Commerce has basically adopted to enormous political and financial effect.

That’s why Grover doesn’t misspeak. There’s too much money on the line. It’s why people pay attention to what Grover says. Not because he is some oracle. But because a lot of smart money flows through and around Grover. My hunch is the smart money wants a way out of the debt ceiling fiasco that avoids a U.S. sovereign default. They’ve got way too much on the line to see their financial interests exposed to the very real risks and uncertainties that a default would cause. It’s only a hunch. But Grover doesn’t do anything by accident.

Late Update: Americans For Tax Reform has issued what on its face seems like a pretty ironclad statement declaring that it’s not giving signees of its pledge an out. I’m still not convinced.

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