Fiscal Cliff 2013: Grover Norquist Wants to Hold America Hostage With the Debt Ceiling, Again

Republican lawmakers flirting with the idea of agreeing to an end to the Bush tax cuts in exchange for entitlement reform are guilty of “impure thoughts,” but that isn’t enough to boot them out of office, according to Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist.

GOP Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and Saxy Chambliss of Georgia, as well as Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma are among the Republicans who have publicly admitted they were willing to sign onto tax increases in the context of a broader fiscal deal. All of them signed Norquist’s infamous tax pledge, in which they agreed to never vote in favor of any legislation which results in an increased tax burden for any American, regardless of income. Leftists have characterized the pledge as extremist. Perhaps sensing a sharp swing in public opinion during and following the election season, many other Republicans are backing off from Norquist as well.

Despite a rout on taxes, Norquist said that he was not planning on attacking Republicans from the right on the issue.

The anti-tax crusader is a master of soldiering on unfazed, even under immense pressure. A Reuters article explained his strategy:

He “… said Republicans do hold leverage — in their power to hold up approval of a hike in the government's borrowing limit — known as the debt ceiling. They also have the power to hold up approval of the so-called Continuing Resolution that funds the government.”

Norquist doesn’t seem to realize this is a recipe for disaster. A Pew/Washington Post poll in June 2011 found that 42% of Americans would blame the Republican Party for a failure to raise the debt ceiling — and this number would be likely to shoot up once the disastrous consequences became clear.

His dogmatic grip on the tax issue has helped Norquist ascend to power personally, but the Americans for Tax Reform-fueled debacle over the debt ceiling last year helped dip Congress's approval ratings to the lowest in history in 2011, a trend which continues this year.

The president condemned Norquist’s tactics last Wednesday, saying, “That is a bad strategy for America, it’s a bad strategy for your businesses, and it is not a game that I will play.” With tension mounting over the debt deal, Obama seems to be willing to accept an intermediary deal and hold his ground later. Some have even suggested that Obama administration is too eager to give concessions on entitlement reform and government spending in a rush to appear bipartisan.

Columnist Noam Scheiber over at TNR practically begs President Obama not to allow Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner to turn the debt ceiling into a GOP bargaining chip, saying that ultimately the Republicans have no leverage. “Boehner is of course trying to turn that nothing into something. But that’s no reason the administration should do his work for him.”

Similarly, other liberal commentators have pleaded Obama not to accept a 2-year rise in the Medicare eligibility age in exchange for Republican cooperation on the debt ceiling and fiscal cliff deals.

Even if Republicans agree to tax increases in exchange for increased leverage during a subsequent debt deal, expect Norquist to remain a power player in Washington.

“No one is caving … For 20 years Democrats have tried over and over to trick the Republicans into breaking the pledge. It hasn’t happened. This isn’t my first rodeo,” Norquist told the Wall Street Journal in November.

While Norquist is a no-nonsense Tea Party conservative, he is also both notoriously funny and once fought with Nixon campaign staffers over his long hair.

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Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

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