Norquist Says Democrats' Tax-Cut Ploy Fails His Pledge

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform Photograph by J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, said something this week that few politicians have been willing to voice in public. At an event at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution, Murray said that she and her party were prepared to risk drastic spending cuts and higher taxes next year unless Republicans quit their fight to extend the Bush-era tax cuts.

“If we can’t get a good deal, a balanced deal that calls on the wealthy to pay their fair share, then I will absolutely continue this debate into 2013 rather than lock in a long-term deal this year that throws middle-class families under the bus,” Murray said.

In other words, Democrats would let the nation fall off the so-called fiscal cliff, allowing more than $1 trillion in spending cuts and higher taxes set to automatically kick in on Jan. 1. Those cuts will take place gradually, over the course of 10 years. If they are allowed to happen, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said they could hurl the U.S. back into recession.

It’s almost unheard-of for a Democrat to advocate that the government drastically cut spending to the point of fiscal catastrophe. But Murray is signaling to Republicans that her party won’t cave on the tax issue as Democrats did in 2010.

Murray, chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, also offered Republicans an “out” that makes sense only in Washington: Allow the cuts to expire, and then vote for a new tax cut that would cover only the middle class, leaving higher tax rates in effect for the wealthy. That strategy would give Republicans the chance to say they voted for a tax cut, and maybe, just maybe, avoid looking as if they broke the “never raise taxes” pledge that virtually every Republican in Washington has signed. Murray’s hope is that the powerful tax-pledge police—directed by Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform—will let things slide this time, on a technicality.

Republicans have blasted Murray’s position as reckless but none have commented publicly, so far, on whether the middle-class tax-cut ploy is something that could gain traction within the party. Some even appear to be mulling whether to break Norquist’s pledge. Simply letting tax cuts expire isn’t the same as actually raising taxes, right?

Wrong, says Norquist. Dead wrong. When I caught up with him on Wednesday, the anti-tax guru was having none of this line of argument.

“I got news for you,” Norquist said. “If you’re paying higher taxes next year because your rates are higher or your deductions fewer—but Patty Murray says it’s not a tax increase—that’s the silliest argument I’ve ever heard.”

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.