Norquist's no-tax pledge is a plague

The following editorial first appeared in the Orlando Sentinel:

 

When the political autopsy on Congress’ supercommittee is complete, a contributing cause of death must include the no-tax pledge that’s infecting elected officials across the nation.

All six of the Republican senators and House members on the 12-member committee went into negotiations having taken an oath that they would never raise income tax rates on individuals or corporations. Nor would they ever eliminate tax deductions or credits unless matched by other tax reductions, so help them Grover.

Grover Norquist is the lord of tax policy to nearly half of the U.S. Congress. Forty-one senators and 238 House members have signed the pledge that Norquist peddles as head of Americans for Tax Reform.

On “60 Minutes” this week, Norquist described those who break the pledge as “rat heads in a Coke bottle,” and vowed to put his group’s formidable resources and influence against anyone who dared to exercise individual judgment and initiative when it comes to taxes.

Can anyone seriously suggest that the committee’s GOP members ever considered meaningful tax increases as part of the deficit reduction plan, and thus become rat heads in the eyes of Grover Norquist? Of course not. Neither would any other pledge-signer who values his or her political skin, including the 20 Florida signers.

Unsatisfied with handcuffing just Congress, Norquist has extended his no-taxes-no-how campaign to state lawmakers. In Florida, 41 legislators and Gov. Rick Scott have bent the knee to Norquist.

The state pledge is even simpler than the federal version, making no stated exception for tax trades. Instead, it states, “I will oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.”

Boom! Done! And if Miami gets wiped out by a Category 5 hurricane and Citizens goes belly-up? The book of Norquist coldly commands: “In the unfortunate event of a real crisis or natural disaster, legislators should cut spending in other areas instead of aggravating the situation.”

The pledge also could derail a business-backed move to start collecting sales tax from online-only retailers like Amazon. Even though Floridians already are supposed to pay such taxes by self-reporting (no one does), Senate President Mike Haridopolos (a pledger) is nervous that shifting the responsibility from consumers to retailers might constitute a tax increase.

He might be more cheerful about the prospect if there’s a corresponding tax decrease in, say, the corporate income tax. That could get Norquist’s blessing, so long as any extra money doesn’t go to wasteful government programs, like education.

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