Lifes Worth Knowing

Grading Gregory: Grover Norquist

In Current events, Economics, Government, Justin, Meet the Press, Politics, Taxes on November 30, 2011 at 9:20 am

Grading Gregory is a weekly column highlighting one of Meet the Press’s headline interviews with the best journalist in the business, David Gregory.

This week, Gregory places the spotlight on someone who former Senator Alan Simpson called “the most powerful man in America.” It’s not Obama, Reid, or Boehner. It’s not even Tim Tebow. It’s Grover Norquist.

Who?

Exactly. Grover Norquist is an anti-tax advocate who has made it his entire life to try to reduce taxes and corner politicians into signing his “no tax” pledge. I am a little bit more familiar with the man as I actually met him personally when he came to my college to give a guest lecture.

Gregory opens up the interview by asking Norquist if the no/low tax ideology can always be applied without exception, as he says, “Times change.  There requires a balanced approach, and in this kind of economy, after a financial crisis, revenues have to be part of the picture.”

It’s a fair question. Is it really smart to say that taxes should ALWAYS be lowered and we should ALWAYS look for ways to reduce government spending? Norquist’s answer is in short, Yes.

“Raising taxes slows the economy.  Raising taxes kills jobs.  Government spending does not create jobs.  The idea that if you take $1 out of the economy and then–from somebody who earned it, either through debt or through taxes, and give it to somebody who’s politically connected that there are more dollars around?”

Now, this is what I love about David Gregory, after Norquist launched into a lengthy metaphor illustrating the “lunacy” or raising taxes, Gregory points out:

“But the notion… that tax cuts or tax increases somehow impact economic growth, we know historically that’s simply not the case.  President Clinton raised taxes during boom times.  President Bush lowered taxes [and it] did not spur great job creation.  Isn’t that one of the falsehoods that’s pedaled in Washington?” (Bravo, sir, bravo)

Norquist launched into a defense of tax cuts saying that cutting marginal rates in the 90s were the cause of the boom times and then comes my favorite line from the anti-tax champion “The Bush tax cuts 2001 were not designed to be stimulative to the economy.”

This comes from a man who just moments earlier was championing the idea that raising taxes kills jobs, so cutting taxes improves the economy…but the Bush tax cuts weren’t designed to stimulate the economy? Does this strike anyone else as a way for him to weasel out of a corner that economic data put him in? Bush cut taxes, the economy begins slipping…it seems to provide some empirical evidence that cutting taxes does not always promote economic growth. But Norquist gets out of it by saying that those tax cuts weren’t designed to stimulate growth.

He can’t have it both ways. Raising taxes can’t always be bad if lowering taxes isn’t always good. The fact is that much of the economic superstructure is built on taxes. Companies transport their goods on roads that taxes paid for. Factories enjoy the security of a public police force protecting private property. Managers hire workers educated in public school systems…It is simply erroneous to say that taxes kill growth. Taxes build our economy. Sure, we can disagree as to what extent we should be tax and how, but it’s not productive or reasonable to lay out a blanket policy that tax are always bad and that raising taxes will always hurt the economy.

As Gregory noted, the empirical evidence shows that Norquist’s position is untenable, and despite his semantic gymnastics to get himself out of that corner, the fact remains that the stubborn refusal to acknowledge that tax policy requires a nuanced and balanced approach is limiting the ability of our government to govern effectively.

I hope that Sen. Simpson is wrong.

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