By Frank Hill
Generally, we do not try to blame any 1 person or 1 group for all the $14.7 trillion+ national debt that is still growing at leaps and bounds.
So we’ll blame three factors: Grover Norquist and the AARP. Norquist for the 'No Tax' Pledge and the AARP for their 'Don't Do ANYTHING to SS or Medicare...or We Will Kill You! stance (or at least defeat you in the next election!)
And the pig-headed people in Congress who sign campaign pledges to both sides and then wonder why they can’t ever find common ground and come to some reasonable solution in the middle.
First of all, who is Grover Norquist (pictured at the top of this post) and why is he so important? What office did he run for and get elected as King Potentate for Life anyway?
The Washington Post recently ran a story on Mr. Norquist, the reigning head of Americans for Tax Reform. It contained the rather startling revelation found in this following sentence:
‘The germ of the pledge came to Norquist, he said, when he was 14 and thinking about a teacher’s comment that no one knows who his or her congressman is. If Republicans were known as the party that never raised taxes, he recalls thinking, they would be spared spending “millions of dollars explaining to you who they are and what they stand for.” They could just “stand up and say, ‘I’m the Republican.’ And you go: ‘He won’t raise my taxes and he won’t steal my guns. Got it.’Well, first of all, we just gotta ask: ‘What sort of a 14-year old kid is worrying about taxes in the first place? And second, whatever happened to playing basketball outside and memorizing crazy baseball boxscores and looking at Farrah Fawcett posters when you were young and growing up as a hormonally-challenged 14-year old guy someplace?'
Fast forward to Michael Gerson’s article of June 10, 2011 wherein Mr. Gerson educates us on how a ‘diphthong’ at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD somehow applies to the current budget stalemate in Washington, DC. (We are with Senator Tom Coburn on this one. Check out the list of Tax Expenditures yourself and go to page 239 to start with and especially page 252 and beyond to see what this means)
The main point in this article is that Mr. Norquist has somehow managed to co-op the entire Republican Party to sign his Taxpayer Protection Pledge that apparently he saw in a vision at age 14. Every duly-elected official must adhere to Mr. Norquist's pledge on a higher plane than the ‘oath’ they take to uphold the Constitution when they are sworn-in at the beginning of each Congress.
Is there something wrong with this picture?
Doesn't it seem strange to you that a group advocating no higher taxes is not also holding our elected representatives' collective feet to the fire to hold down spending at the same time? Why not? They do go together you know in a constitutional manner. Congress has the power to raise the funds necessary to pay for federal spending programs and to pay all debts incurred by the federal government.
We think candidates for public office can and should convey their general philosophy towards government spending, taxation and general public policy during a campaign.
But we think signing a pledge is irresponsible and borders on the reckless. Especially now when we need cooler, much smarter heads to prevail and prevent the US from heading off the cliff of debt like Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain or Zimbabwe.
We fear exorbitant debt and rising interest rates and possible hyperinflation far more than any tax Congress could possibly pass. Why? Tax hikes can be repealed by the next Congress. Hyperinflation can't.
Here’s the one question that never fails to pop the balloon of any anti-tax advocate:
“Will you or will you not accept a $1 tax hike on every single one of the 150 million taxpayers in America today in return for a $10 trillion reduction in spending from the baseline for the next decade?’If you have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, you are forced to say: ‘No. I am very sorry. I can not take that common-sense solution and help return the US to some sort of fiscal sanity because I signed Grover Norquist’s Pledge and he won’t let me break his pledge.’
Who is the elected official here? The Congressman/Senator or Mr. Norquist?
But just so as to not appear to be blaming the ‘No Tax’ crowd for these enormous, outrageous budget deficits and debt, let’s look on the flip side and see the types of pledges the AARP and others like them have gotten candidates to sign during their campaigns in exchange not for the votes but to avoid their opposition:
Many to most times, sitting Members of Congress and the US Senate have signed both the ‘No Tax Hike’ Pledge and every ‘No Spending Cut’ Pledge under the sun!
So how in the world are we ever going to balance these budgets if we can’t raise taxes or cut spending?
We can’t. It is simply and ontologically impossible.
And we can’t grow the economy at 10% per year to grow our way out of this mess either, no matter what Tim Pawlenty or any other spin merchant might want to try to tell you.
We don’t like higher taxes any more than anyone else does. We have put our mouth where our mouth is over 4 long years of slogging through the House Budget Committee where were helped produce $500 billion in spending cuts, $175 billion from Medicare and Medicaid alone. We have yet to meet anyone who has done more to reduce spending in the US Congress than we did or the 14 other Republican Members on the House Budget Committee in 1991 who put this package out on the table against all odds and saw the bulk of it finally passed in 1997. (Rick Lazio of New York was the only GOP Budget Committee Member to vote against it in committee and on the floor of the House)
What we virulently object to are people who never support the tough spending cuts necessary, mostly in the entitlements and yet cling to the notion that all they have to do is oppose any tax hike and they have done their job.
They have done only 'half' their job. Spending control is the only way to truly control deficits and debt and most of the anti-tax hikers have never supported or voted for any real spending restraint in these difficult areas.
We would prefer to see spending held flat for the next 5 years and allow the economy at least fighting chance to recover and allow tax revenues to catch up to the level of spending at the federal levels and balance that way. But even that would entail some rearrangement and reorientation and yes, cutting of federal programs from SS to Medicare to domestic programs, even so slightly as to allow the overall rate of growth to remain under 2% for quite some time.
It is the only way out, honestly.
If you would like to help us start the 'No New Spending!' Pledge movement, please let us know and we will set up a new website to do so. Our goal would be to have every Member of Congress who has already signed the Tax Pledge to also sign the Spending Pledge and the Balanced Budget Amendment by the end of this Congress, 2011.
Then, we will be getting someplace.
(Editor's Note: Frank Hill's résumé includes working as chief of staff for Senator Elizabeth Dole and Congressman Alex McMillan, serving on the House Budget Committee and serving on the Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform. He takes on politics from a fiercely independent perspective at the blog Telemachus).
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore.
Related discussion: At Memeorandum, Politico, "Mitt Romney leads Drudge primary"