The head of Americans for Tax Reform has had remarkable success in convincing politicians to abide by campaign promises.
Recent American politics has had one remarkable exception to the rule: the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. Administered by the Washington-based Americans for Tax Reform and created by the organization’s founder, Grover Norquist, the pledge binds its takers to oppose “any and all efforts” to increase marginal income tax rates and to protect tax deductions and credits. Two hundred thirty-three of the 240 House Republicans have signed it, as have 40 of the 47 Republican senators. Two House Democrats and one Senate Democrat, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, are signatories, as well as 1,252 state legislators who signed a less specific pledge. All of which would be meaningless without the omertà-like fidelity with which pledge takers stick to their vows once in office. Any time a proposal is floated to increase taxes in any way—not just income taxes or trimming tax credits, but capital-gains taxes and even excise taxes on gasoline or tobacco—it’s a safe bet that Norquist’s army will line up against it.
As the federal government brushes against the debt ceiling, putting at risk everything from the nation’s ability to provide prescription drugs for its seniors to a robust national defense, politicians on all sides agree that failure to reach a compromise could be catastrophic. Yet congressional Republicans have remained nearly monolithic in opposing tax increases as part of the solution. The deficit, they insist, must be closed entirely through spending cuts. It’s a triumph for Norquist’s pledge and the worldview it represents and reinforces: that government spending is, by its nature, a corrupting force on individual liberty and the free market, something to be fought whether the government is in the black or in the red. “Anyone who says we have a deficit problem is either a Democrat who wants to raise taxes,” says Norquist, “or a Republican who’s dimwitted and doesn’t understand what he’s talking about.”