Republicans do not like taxes. That much is certain. But one of the reasons Republicans in Congress are so dead set against raising any taxes by any amount on anyone or anything, even if that's what it takes to reach a deal on the debt ceiling and keep the American economy from collapsing, is because their hands have been tied by the Americans for Tax Reform pledge that 95 percent of them have signed. The only thing more unforgivable to ATR than voting to raise taxes is voting to raise taxes after having vowed in writing never to do so. Meanwhile, Democrats demand that any debt-reduction plan must include some kind of new tax revenues, which is why Congress finds itself at an impasse. But maybe the Washington Post has stumbled upon an escape hatch:
With a handful of exceptions, every Republican member of Congress has signed a pledge against increasing taxes. Would allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire as scheduled in 2012 violate this vow? We posed this question to Grover Norquist, its author and enforcer, and his answer was both surprising and encouraging: No.
In other words, according to Mr. Norquist’s interpretation of the Americans for Tax Reform pledge, lawmakers have the technical leeway to bring in as much as $4 trillion in new tax revenue — the cost of extending President George W. Bush’s tax cuts for another decade — without being accused of breaking their promise. “Not continuing a tax cut is not technically a tax increase,” Mr. Norquist told us. So it doesn’t violate the pledge? “We wouldn’t hold it that way,” he said.
The fact that Grover Norquist seems kind of okay with this is a big deal, because he hates taxes more than pretty much anybody. If even he doesn't consider letting the Bush tax cuts expire to be a tax increase, then Republicans in Congress can agree to that with a clean conscience. It's like Michelle Obama telling her kids that carrot cake is technically a vegetable.
Update: One year ago, in July 2010, Norquist told Newsmax that letting the Bush tax cuts expire would be "the largest tax increase in American history":
Allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire at the end of this year, as the Democrats plan, will in fact result in “about a trillion-dollar tax increase on the American people over the next decade,” Norquist says.
“It would be the largest tax increase in American history, and it would take every marginal tax rate and increase it. The taxes on businesses, on capital gains, would be very high."
So ... ?
Update II: Norquist and the ATR are furiously walking back his remarks to the Washington Post. In an appearance on MSNBC this morning he clarified his position:
Appearing on MSNBC hours after the editorial appeared, Norquist claimed that the Washington Post had selectively quoted him.
"I think they need to follow the rest of the conversation," he said. "Otherwise it wouldn't pass the laugh test to go to the American people and tell them you just allowed $4 trillion dollars in higher taxes by allowing the 2001-2003 lower rates to lapse and tell people that's not a tax increase."
And ATR released a statement which directly contradicts what he's quoted as telling the Post:
ATR opposes all tax increases on the American people. Any failure to extend or make permanent the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, in whole or in part, would clearly increase taxes on the American people. In addition, the failure to extend the AMT patch would increase taxes. The outlines of the plans are deliberately hazy, but it appears that both Obama’s Simpson-Bowles commission proposal and the Gang-of-Six proposal dramatically increase taxes on the American people.
It is a violation of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge to trade temporary tax reductions for permanent tax hikes.
The present conversations in Washington should focus totally and exclusively on reducing government overspending. President Barack Obama has increased the annual federal budget by almost $1 trillion dollars. ATR has not altered either its policy positions or opposition to all tax increases whatsoever in any debt negotiations.
Hope you enjoyed that hour of optimism while it lasted.
Updated III: The Post has posted the audio of the interview, confirming that Norquist told them that, while letting the Bush tax cuts expire would be a tax increase, it wouldn't be the type of tax increase that would violate the ATR pledge.