As we watch our CONgress drive the country off the fiscal cliff, all we hear over and over again, is the reality that so many of these politicians have signed “The Pledge” of Grover Norquist for no new taxes. Norquist is best known for founding Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) in 1985, which he says was done at the request of then-President Ronald Reagan. Referring to Norquist’s activities as head of ATR, Steve Kroft, in a 60 Minutes episode that aired on November 20, 2011, claimed that “Norquist has been responsible, more than anyone else, for rewriting the dogma of the Republican Party.”
The primary policy goal of Americans for Tax Reform is to reduce government revenues as a percentage of the GDP. ATR states that it “opposes all tax increases as a matter of principle.” Americans for Tax Reform has supported Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) legislation and transparency initiatives, while opposing cap-and-trade legislation and efforts to regulate health care.
In 1993, Norquist launched his Wednesday Meetings series at ATR headquarters, initially to help fight President Clinton’s healthcare plan and eventually becoming one of the most significant institutions in American conservative political organizing. The meetings have been called “a must-attend event for Republican operatives fortunate enough to get an invitation”, and “the Grand Central station of the conservative movement.”
Prior to the November 2012 election, 238 of 242 House Republicans and 41 out of 47 Senate Republicans had signed ATR’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge”, in which the congressmen and women promise to “oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate for individuals and business; and to oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”
The November 6, 2012 elections resulted in a decline in the number of Taxpayer Protection Pledge signatories in both the upper and lower houses of the 113th Congress: from 41 to 39 in the Senate, and from 238 to “fewer than … 218” in the House of Representatives. According to journalist Alex Seitz-Wald, losses in the election by Norquist supporters and the “fiscal cliff” have emboldened and made more vocal critics of Norquist.
In November 2011, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) blamed Norquist’s influence for the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction‘s lack of progress, claiming that Congressional Republicans “are being led like puppets by Grover Norquist. They’re giving speeches that we should compromise on our deficit, but never do they compromise on Grover Norquist. He is their leader.” Since Norquist’s pledge binds signatories to opposing deficit reduction agreements that include any element of increased tax revenue, some Republican deficit hawks now retired from office have stated that Norquist has become an obstacle to deficit reduction. Former Republican Senator Alan Simpson (R-WY), co-chairman of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, has been particularly critical, describing Norquist’s position as “no taxes, under any situation, even if your country goes to hell.” Norquist’s efforts were believed to cause the first downgrade of The US credit rating in history. He infamously stated, “I’m not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”
What is the fear of Norquist and how does he extort these pledges? Money, Money, Money. Norquist sits on a number of boards and is heavily funded by the likes of the Koch Brothers, NRA, American Conservative Union, and the Family Research Council, just to name a few. Most importantly he is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
But it would be easy to blame Grover for all the woes of CONgress, however the facts would indicate that many liberal members of CONgress fear the same threat of withdrawal of campaign monies if they “don’t play along”, even if they have not signed the pledge.
I think it is high time we, as the electorate, take a cue from Norquist and demand that our political candidates all sign a pledge as a part of receiving their nomination for office from either party. Failure to do so would be public and we, as an electorate, would insure that no matter how well a particular candidate was funded they would not receive the requisite votes to be elected. We will call it the PLEDGE TO THE PRINCIPLES OF PUBLIC LIFE. Here is that pledge:
I, the undersigned candidate do solemnly swear and pledge under oath, that I will at all times during my public service adhere without comprise to the seven principles of public life during my tenure as a public servant.
The Seven Principles of Public Life
Selflessness: Holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.
Integrity: Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organizations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.
Objectivity: In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
Accountability: Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
Openness: Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.
Honesty: Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
Leadership: Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.
[Extracted from the “First Report of the Committee on Standards of Public Life”, UK May 1995]
Whatya think? Do you think there is a way we as citizens can make this happen in a way that is as powerful as the monied interests ridiculous Taxpayer Protection Pledge?