With the threat of major tax increases hovering over the heads of hundreds of millions of Americans, Grover Norquist is remaining as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar in his steely resolve to pressure top Republicans into stopping them.
Norquist is the creator and keeper of "The Pledge" — a commitment never to vote for a tax increase that he has had some 219 House members and 39 senators sign over the years.
"It’s been 22 years since a Republican voted for a tax increase in this town," Norquist, who heads the group Americans for Tax Reform, told The New York Times.
But while Norquist has managed to keep the pledge mostly unblemished, he knows he’s in for the fight of his life to keep it that way — especially with the federal deficit at $1 trillion and rumblings from GOP bigs that maybe a tax hike would be okay.
Regardless, Norquist, 56, continues to talk like a general who just knows he’s going to win the battle.
"The Rs are holding," he trumpeted during a luncheon of the Center for the National Interest on Monday, according to the Washington Post. "The fantasy is that the Republicans would cave on marginal tax rates — they’re non-negotiable."
But not everybody appears to think that is so.
“A pledge is good at the time you sign it,” said veteran New York Rep. Peter King told The Times.
"In 1941, I would have voted to declare war on Japan. But each Congress is a new Congress. And I don’t think you can have a rule that you’re never going to raise taxes or that you’re never going to lower taxes. I don’t want to rule anything out."
And there are rumblings on the Hill from such GOP movers and shakers as House Speaker John Boehner and Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker that everybody is going to have to be flexible on the issue of raising taxes.
There are even a few who have banished "The Pledge."
"Basically, the pledge is like a Master Lock," said Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia, who renounced it earlier this year.
Whether more Republicans begin falling like dominoes behind Rigell remains to be seen, but few believe that Norquist's ability to keep turning the screws should be underestimated.
Norquist grew up in Weston, Mass., the son of Polaroid executive Warren Norquist, and became transfixed by politics at an early age.
At 12, he joined Richard Nixon’s pivotal 1968 presidential campaign and worked tirelessly to promote the former California senator who went on to trounce Hubert Humphrey by a half-million votes.
Norquist was accepted at Harvard University where he obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees, became an editor of the school’s prestigious Harvard Crimson newspaper and joined the Hasty Pudding Club.
An anti-tax advocate and conservative early on, Norquist founded the Americans for Tax Reform at the request of President Ronald Reagan, pledging to oppose "all tax increases as a matter of principle."
Norquist then created "The Pledge," which he had little trouble getting about 95 percent of Washington’s Republicans to sign.
But the no-increases-ever edict didn’t and doesn’t sit well with everybody.
Former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson has ripped Norquist’s crusade as "no taxes under any situation — even if your country goes to hell."
Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn called the no-tax pledge a “tortured vision of tax purity."
And Senator John McCain, told a forum held by Atlantic magazine, that "fewer and fewer people are signing this, quote, pledge."
With the nation approaching its "fiscal cliff," tax increases amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars are set to kick in automatically unless a deal can be hammered out.
Norquist says he wants the fiscal cliff negotiations to be broadcast on C-SPAN to keep everything transparent.
“No quiet rooms,’’ he told The Daily Beast, referring to a Mitt Romney quote about where Washington imbroglios should be solved.
"They can be smoke-filled rooms, with Boehner smoking as much as he wants — and it has to be on C-SPAN so children can pick up bad habits."
Continuing the quip, Norquist tells the Daily Beast, "That would raise revenue if we could get more of those 12-year-olds paying cigarette taxes."
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