Did Grover Norquist just give House Republicans a little more room to maneuver in negotiations over the fiscal cliff? Or is he just trying to stay relevant as the GOP runs away from his pledge?
Pressed by msnbc's Alex Wagner Tuesday afternoon on whether Speaker John Boehner's budget counter-proposal goes against Republican lawmakers' pledge not to hike taxes, by raising $800 billion in new revenue through a combination of closing tax loopholes and ending deductions, the Americans for Tax Reform president dodged the question.
“The Republicans who have made that commitment to their constituents have to be able to look at their constituents and say ‘I didn’t raise your taxes.’ That’s the key question you have to handle,” Norquist said. “At the end of the day, is it credible to say that you didn’t raise taxes or did you?”
At issue is whether increasing revenue by reforming the tax code to close loopholes and let deductions expire—and thus increasing Americans’ tax burden to the government—counts as raising taxes. Norquist had previously indicated that such an approach did violate his pledge.
Of course, Norquist may also be working to obscure the reality that in fact, the GOP has already agreed to violate the pledge, under that interpretation of it, since the Boehner counter-proposal has been endorsed by the entire Republican leadership team. Unless he shifts the goalposts, Norquist risks being left behind.
Two hundred and thirty-eight Representatives and 41 Senators in the current Congress are bound to Norquist’s pledge, though high-profile Republican lawmakers including Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) , Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Peter King (R-N.Y.) have publicly distanced themselves in recent weeks.
Norquist said the idea that Obama’s negotiating strategy may be emboldened by the recent election is an example of the president “overplaying his hand.”
“Now he gets re-elected with less strength…and the Republicans have the House and he thinks somebody made him king and he’s going to have more taxes, more spending, and more regulations,” Norquist said on Now with Alex Wagner. "It’s a real problem for him. He doesn’t have the mandate he thinks he does. So I think he takes us over the cliff because he’s got blinders on. He doesn’t see where he stands in the universe.”