In farewell remarks Friday that were both emotional and biting, Rep. John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who is retiring after 60 years as the longest-serving U.S. House member in history, cited Grover Norquist's anti-tax pledge as a major reason he believes "Congress doesn't work" as it used to.
In addressing a standing-room-only crowd at the National Press Club, Dingell, 88, spoke of the years after he succeeded his late father, "New Deal" Democratic Rep. John Dingell Sr., who served from 1933-1955, as a period "when Congress worked ... with goodwill and mutual respect, with colleagues who were interested in seeing the nation grow [and] put the partisan label on the shelf.
"That's how it was," said Dingell, adding that "'coming together' is the meaning of the word Congress" and that "Congress has not been doing much coming together lately."
Among the reasons for this cited by the veteran lawmaker are recent redistricting of House districts by state legislatures and the "Citizens United" decision opening the way for "spending unlimited amounts of unidentified money to allow certain people to swing elections."
Dingell also listed among his reasons for Congress not working is the anti-tax pledge of Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), in which candidates for Congress sign a written promise not to vote for new taxes or raise existing taxes.
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Insisting that taxpayer-funded programs are needed for "Americans living in the most dangerous circumstances," the Michigan lawmaker charged that "the Grover Norquist pledge is to carry out [Norquist's] goal of shrinking the size of government until you can drown it in a bathtub — his words, not mine."
After Newsmax read Dingell's words to him later that day, Norquist replied: "It's very flattering and there's real wisdom in his words. Mr. Dingell is wrong in citing me, but quite correct in citing the pledge as a substantial blow to the left. This is a high honor."
What Dingell means by Congress working, Norquist said, "is through raising taxes and that the pledge has made it difficult for government to work as it did for so many of the years he was in Congress."
Norquist told us that the ATR pledge "is a public commitment made not to me but to the [lawmakers'] constituencies and to the American people."
He recalled that before his pledge was offered to candidates back in 1986, "no one said they won't raise taxes. They just said how they preferred not to raise taxes and how pained they were after taxes went up.
"The pledge has made it possible to credibly commit to not raising taxes. Look, George H.W. Bush said 'no more taxes' and then broke his promise. The pledge has made it impossible for politicians to say lots of things they don't mean because they now put it in writing. The voters now know that elected officials only take it if they mean to keep it."
As he bids farewell to his beloved Congress, Dingell demonstrated he was as feisty as ever.
As to why he feels the Supreme Court reached the "Citizens United" decision he so hates, the veteran lawmaker replied, "Money, and the fact that almost the entire court was selected on the basis of legal training and not ideology."
He also said he did not believe that recent revelations of IRS investigations into the tax-free status of conservative groups was a scandal because they were investigating why "an enormous amount of money was coming from fat-cats trying to buy the store."
Whatever one thinks of him, John Dingell is an historical figure. As a teenager working as a page in the House, he met Franklin D. Roosevelt and was in the House Chamber to hear FDR ask for a declaration of war after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. He will also be the last World War II veteran to have served in Congress.
Dingell left little doubt he wants the "Dingell Dynasty" to go on, and said he hopes his wife Deborah will succeed him in Congress because "she is smarter."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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