Grover Norquist’s tax pledge is pretty straightforward. “I [undersigned] pledge to ... oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates,” it reads. So, it was a little surprising to see this afternoon that Norquist has come out in favor of an increase in marginal income tax rates. An official declaration from his Americans for Tax Reform ruled as kosher John Boehner’s so-called Plan B fiscal cliff proposal:
The House this week will vote on a tax bill. This legislation—popularly known as “Plan B”--permanently prevents a tax increase on families making less than $1 million per year. ... Having finally seen actual legislation in writing, ATR is now able to make its determination about a legislative proposal related to the fiscal cliff. ATR will not consider a vote for this measure a violation of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.
You know what else Plan B would do? Hike taxes on Americans making more than $1 million a year, in direct contravention of Norquist's pledge.
But he gets off on a technicality. See, all the Bush tax cuts will expire on Dec. 31 anyway, so all Boehner’s bill does is extend some of them, while letting the others die. Technically, it "contains no tax increases of any kind," as ATR's statement notes. Even though everyone knows exactly what's going on here -- Republicans are preparing to vote, for the first time, for a tax hike -- Norquist is looking the other way because he knows Republicans really need him to cut them some slack right now. Plus, he knows it's not a serious effort, but just a means to pressure Democrats. It shows how Norquist can occasionally bend the rules of his pledge in order to help the GOP out of a jam that he himself helped create.
Almost exactly a year ago, the payroll tax holiday -- a popular Democratic-backed program aimed at the middle class -- was set to expire. Republicans opposed extending it because they only care about giving tax cuts to the wealthy, so liberals started using Norquist's pledge against the GOP. Republicans have to support the tax cut extension, Democrats argued; not doing so would violate Norquist’s pledge. Lo, an early Christmas miracle: Norquist blessed letting the payroll tax holiday expire. For basically no reason.
“For the president to run around and say not continuing a temporary tax cut is an increase is inaccurate,” Norquist told the National Journal. He didn’t really elaborate on that because it would be hard to. Plenty of other tax cuts are temporary -- the Bush tax cuts that were supposed to last only 10 years, the oil subsidies that have to get renewed every year -- yet Norquist supports them.
Which all makes us wonder if 2014's Republican primary challengers will be more consistent than Norquist and run ads attacking incumbents for hiking taxes.