National Tea Party Tax Protests
Wednesday, April 15, 2009; 2:00 PM
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, an interest group which seeks to reduce the overall tax level in the U.S., was online Wednesday, April 15, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss today's protests, which have been billed as part of a nationwide protest against the Obama administration's economic policies, which critics say have plunged the country deeper into debt and increased taxes and government regulation.
Grover Norquist: Today is tax day. I just returned from the tea party rally at Lafayette Park. Despite the rain there were about a thousand folks at the Washington rally. Focus was on runaway spending in Washington and the taxes that will follow as a result.
Around the country there were several hundred, maybe as many as 2000 rallies scheduled. I saw Hawaii has seven.
I was impressed with the fact that these rallies precede a serious tax hike. Back in 1978 the taxpayer movement followed tax hikes, particularly on property.
Toronto, Ontario: What do you make of suggestions that these "tea party" events have been created by Republican front groups seeking to rebuild the Republican brand?
Grover Norquist: It is interesting that Paul Krugman and others on the left have suggested that the hundreds of spontaneous demonstrations are somehow actually organized by Exxon or the Republican National Committee or me.
Why would it be reassuring to think that the RNC or ATR can put thousands of folks at a rally in Orlando or Cincinnati in short order.
The rallies were organized by three folks. Obama, Reid and Pelosi. The massive stimulus bill (NB: Stimulus is a French word for 'spending') has angered and scared a great number of Americans.
Warrenton, Va.: I see that some of the media are equating the tax protest with a return to higher tax rates from the Clinton administration. My big concern is runaway deficit spending. Worst case scenario is higher taxes with continued deficits and debt. Are you concerned with this?
Grover Norquist: The real cost of government (federal, state and/or local) is total spending.
If the government spent a hundred dollars, taxing 90 and borrowing 10 there would be 100 dollars removed from the productive economy and redistributed by the government.
If the government decided to fix the deficit of 10 by raising taxes by ten, just how would this free of money for anything.
There is $100 missing. Before 90 was taken and 10 borrowed.
Now 100 was taken. One hundred missing.
Total spending is the deadweight cost of government. The deficit is the difference between two important numbers: total spending and total taxes.
How is it that you failed to apply for the proper permits for today's event in Washington, D.C.?
Grover Norquist: The folks who organized the Washington Tea party rally told me that they were told they had two permits. One before the Treasury Department so folks could speak directly towards the nice Secretary who need not pay taxes like the rest of us. The second at Lafayette Park.
When people showed up Obama's secret service overrode the DC promised permit and claimed jurisdiction over Treasury, but not evidently over Lafayette.
WE have never had a problem like this with previous white Houses. It did smell coming at the time that the Dept. of Homeland Security sent out a memo suggesting police go after veterans, pro-lifers, and guys like Monroe who like state and local government better than the national central government.
Bad PR by the Obama secret service. Maybe bad coordination between the White House and the District.
The organizers were told all was okay and then White House changed the rules.
Why this happened this year and not the previous 20?
There have been reports from the states of AFSCME guys being troublesome with permits around the nation for taxpayer rallies this week.
Tallahassee, Fla.: Do you feel that a "user fee" implemented on a particular product or service would qualify as a tax increase?
Grover Norquist: user fees are often used as a euphemism for tax hikes.
A real user fee would be charging someone for using the Xerox machine at city hall. There are e other places to make Xerox's.
A tax on a product--like beer, wine, tobacco--are excise taxes not user fees.
A user fee requires that the government provide some service, that the price demanded be consistent with the service and that there are i.e.. not a government monopoly.
The post office charge to deliver packages is a user fee--there are other FedEx, UPS.
Fairfax, Va.: Do you think the memo released by the Dept of Homeland Security yesterday was timed to link Tea Party protesters with right wing extremists?
Grover Norquist: A number of rally organizers do belief that the DHS memo smearing conservatives as terrorists was leaked at this time to try and smear the rallies.
I was told that a San Diego radio show asked a DHS spokesman if they would have spies at the rallies and the DHS spokesman said "maybe." Didn't say no.
If this was not a dirty trick by Obama's team they can quickly fix the problem by identifying the person who wrote this memo, the person who edited the memo and the person who sent it out. All three should be fired and then the Obama team could credibly say this was not their effort to stifle dissent. Otherwise, denials don't pass the laugh test.
Washington, D.C.: The Boston Tea Party was arranged as a protest to taxation without representation. You have representatives. Why not throw them out?
Also, why no protest of the over $600,000,000,000 that has been spent in Iraq since 2001?
Grover Norquist: The nasty reaction by leading democrats and left of center writers to the tea party demonstrations suggests that they fear exactly that....that this energy will recreate 1994 and Nancy Pelosi will lost control of the House in November 2010 as a result.
This was not a pro-republican set of rallies, but as those who voted for the Stimulus/spending bill and the Obama/REid/Pelosi budget were all leading Dems it wouldn't take too much effort for Republicans running for House, Senate and state office to benefit from this energy.
Burke, Va.: Mr. Norquist:
It's apparent that the turnout around the country for these events was rather light. Any disappointment on your end?
Grover Norquist: The DC rally was quite strong--and it was pouring rain.
The other rallies that have been held already such as in Orlando where one of ATR's staffers attended had several thousands.
Taxpayer rallies are not like left wing rallies or student rallies. Students don't have jobs they have to be at. Or families they have to manage. When the union bosses send folks to demonstrate against me it is always fun to watch the demo end on the hour and folks line up to get pay or pay vouchers.
If I was part of the tax and spend team I would be very concerned about the turnout--there was no such energy four months into Carter or four months into Clinton.
And these rallies are before the tax hikes start..before the pain of taxes and inflation.
Arlington, Va.: There's a story on washingtonpost.com reporting that the tea partiers in Lafayette Square essentially gave up when told they didn't have the proper permits. Not exactly pledging their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor, is it?
Grover Norquist: I am assuming that the taxpayers can win this fight to regain limited government and expand freedom without going to the mattresses every time a bureaucrat says no.
Governments making it difficult to petition for change simply force folks to redirect their energies into the next election.
Edina, Minn.: Mr Norquist writes "If the government spent a hundred dollars, taxing 90 and borrowing 10 there would be 100 dollars removed from the productive economy and redistributed by the government."
Not true. That borrowed $10 is earning somebody interest income. The $90 is spent - returned to the economy - on things like wages & salaries, fuel & energy or goods & services, many of which are provided by private enterprise (defense contractors, for instance). How can you repeat this farcical math with a straight face?
Grover Norquist: Think this through on both sides.
If the government spends 100 by taking 90 by force and borrowing 10....then the gov pays interest on the ten.
If the government spends 100 by taking all 100 by force the private sector does not get the interest on the ten.
in the first case the gov pays interest on the ten and the private sector gets interest on the ten.
In the second case the gov does not pay interest on the ten and the private sector doesn't get interest on the ten. The additional ten lost to the private sector does not gain interest forever into the future.
In both cases the government has received and spent 100.
That is the key number to watch.
Boston, Mass.: Our original tea party up here in Boston was over taxation without representation. Do you support representation in Congress for D.C.?
Grover Norquist: I used to live in Massachusetts myself, but emigrated to America when young. (sorry)
The problem in Congress is not that Washington DC doesn't have a congressman or senators, but that there are dozens of congressmen and senators who vote the interests of Washington DC rather than their constituents.
I would support returning the land to Maryland just as land was returned to Virginia. The federal government doesn't need to have jurisdiction over all of the district.
Atlanta, Ga.: It is difficult to take seriously your assertion that the Republican National Committee and other conservative organizations weren't behind these rallies when you talk up how much this "energy" will translate into the next election.
Grover Norquist: How old are you.
You believe it is proof that the RNC created a movement because that movement would benefit the RNC.
I have a rather long list of things that are good the Republican party that the republican party didn't invent, support or want...starting with Reagan and the taxpayers movement.
Not everyone is smart enough to think up and implement a good idea no matter how beneficial it would be to them.
Ogden, Utah: I'd have a lot more respect for these so-called tax protests if they weren't all being held on property bought, paid for and maintained by the taxpayers.
Why aren't they being done strictly on private sector facilities, as a show of independence from taxing entities?
Grover Norquist: Government ownership of land is not a good reason for citizens to have their rights of free speech and assembly to be denied.
ditto all those federal lands that Obama and company want to deny folks their second amendment rights.
The King of England liked to claim control of much land. Our revolution was one for private ownership and control of land.
There has been, one notices, some slippage in our liberties.
I don't mind Obama bowing to the queen as long as he doesn't mimic her enthusiasm for the idea of the Crown's lands.
Washington, D.C.: Mr. Norquist, with all due respect, how is all this theatrical grandstanding a help to our troubled economy and the millions of newly unemployed? Solutions and suggestions would be welcome, but Republicans have only criticism and complaints to offer. I am disappointed in my party, and I'm not a minority.
And I know it's your job to put a nice spin on it, but I've been looking out the window, and it's certainly not a pouring rain -- barely a drizzle here in D.C.
Grover Norquist: As for the rain. I will send you the bill for my dry cleaning. Are you like folks in Buffalo who always scoff at local comments about snow because they have known worse.
My comments about conservative vs. liberal demonstrations stands. I spoke at noon and it was pouring.
AS for alternatives to spending several trillion dollars that will have to be ripped out of the economy or borrowed I would recommend Congress Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) who offered a serious budget. The democrats never offered a party alternative in all the years of GOP presidents and/or congresses. Sometimes the black caucus did. But not the Dem minority. The Rs have been much more honest and forthright in opposition in proposing a real budget alternative. Cheer up.
London, U.K.: Do you not agree that the Republican Party in recent years while paying lip-service to the need for lower taxes has been often only too keen to gorge itself on higher spending to create an ugly 'big government' version of Republicanism. Is not time to return to Reaganite roots with lower spending as well as lower taxation - and it can't all be achieved by removing 'waste.'
Grover Norquist: The federal government spends too much, borrows too much and taxes too much. I am for having the feds (and the states and local governments) do less of each.
During the Bush years the feds spent and taxed and borrowed too much, did not focus on limiting spending as a goal and our president decided to be the mayor of Baghdad rather than president of the United States which was an expensive decision on several fronts.
Arlington, Va.: Post had a story today about tax "deniers" -- do you support these guys?
washingtonpost.com: Income Tax 'Defiers' Include D.C. Detective (Post, April 15)
Grover Norquist: From time to time I get questions on talk radio--or even chat rooms--about interesting theories that the 16th amendment was not really ratified and/or that paper money doesn't count as income, etc.
I tend to doubt that courts will reduce the burdens of taxation from Americans.
I think it more profitable to work through the legislative and executive branch to change tax laws rather than indulge in fantasies, however cheerful, that these costs can be wished away. Anything worth doing is a great deal of work and reducing the cost of government is one of those. There are not legal silver bullets.
Fairfax, Va.: I don't see what difference it makes if the RNC or Dick Armey or any other particular group or person is "behind" these tea parties. Half the country did not vote for Obama. There are a lot of people who do not and will not agree with his policies or ideology. This does not make them evil or extremist. I am getting scared at our burgeoning debt and drift to socialism. I regret I voted for Obama. My conservative family members and friends were right about him.
Grover Norquist: Obama promised repeatedly that he would never raise anyone's taxes who earned less than $250.000.
Sixteen days into his presidency he signed a tax hike on tobacco users.
20-25% of Americans use tobacco. The only American who uses tobacco and earns more than $250,000 is named Barack Obama.
he made is most frequently voiced central campaign promise a lie sixteen days into the presidency. There is a reason some buyers remorse has set in.
Falls Church, Va.: As Oliver Wendell Holmes has said:
"Taxes are the price we pay for civilization." I agree.
Grover Norquist: Somehow I never thought of sugar subsidies as a key part of civilization. Or the racist Davis-Bacon act.
Did the National socialists have more civilization than we do? Why not? They had more taxes.
Or the Bolsheviks? Was East Germany more civilized than west Germany. North Korea more civilized than South Korea.
Oddly, in the united states folks move from high income tax states to low or no income tax states....are they fleeing civilization?
A good, honest and limited government is a necessary part of civilization. Taxation beyond that required for limited government that protects the rights of Americans is destructive of human liberty and civilization.
Washington, D.C.: What are the government services that you are willing to give up so that taxes can be reduced?
Grover Norquist: Let's start with the racist Bacon act that increases the costs of highway construction by one third. It was passed to keep blacks out of federal contracts. That's a service I could do without.
A number of states have "tax me more" funds so if you believe that the government spends you money better than you do you can simply write a bigger check. Ditto the feds.
If you want more government, you can send in a check.
Did a single democrat congressman or Senator who voted to deny you a tax cut every pay the taxes he wanted you to pay.
I haven't found one yet. Tax hypocrites.
Harrisburg, Pa.: There was a good turnout of tea protestors in Harrisburg. There was a noticeable sign denouncing the current government as being socialist. Do you agree with these sentiments, and would you encourage or discourage supporters from using words like "socialist"?
Grover Norquist: Obama, Reid and Pelosi are spending a great deal of money.
This is not socialism.
It is stupid.
One should understate one's claims, not exaggerate them.
Socialism means the state ownership of the means of production.
Liberals want to run GM without owning it. That ideology begins with a different letter.
Fairfax, Va.: Mr. Norquist, in regard to your earlier answer, are you not concerned with deficits? It is great to say cut taxes but what about paying for them? In addition, some talk about cutting but they fail to identify what they would cut. How would you like to see it addressed?
Grover Norquist: Step one in controlling government spending is to have transparency in spending.
Texas, under governor Rick Perry posts all state contracts and all state spending. More than 200 school districts in Texas post all their check registers. Some 12 states have begun to post all contracts and all spending. Missouri has a good website.
Sandra Fabry runs the Center for Fiscal Accountability, which tracks all federal, state and local efforts to make government spending transparent.
www.fiscalaccountability.org is the website with the state of play in all states.
This is an issue that honest liberals can support. Ralph Nader has co-signed three letters with me to all governors asking them to become transparent in state spending and contracts. WE tried without success to get the Bush White house to lead on this effort.
Bristol, Conn.: From the reactions I've been reading and hearing regarding the tea parties and the DHS "report" the left is clearly threatened and offended that people are daring to disagree with the even bigger government movement that the President and Democrats are pushing and enacting. Why do you think they are so threatened?
Grover Norquist: The left is correct to be scared. They are governing in a very different way than they campaigned.
There are 49 Democrat congressmen in districts that voted for both Bush in 2004 and McCain in 2008, not very good R years.
Obama doesn't have to run for anything for four years. Congress is up in two and folks are not happy.
Portland, Maine: Hi Grover.
What level of taxation would be appropriate?
Grover Norquist: Less.
While I am not wedded to any specific number I would like to see the cost of government reduced by half over the next 25 years, from 33% of GDP to 16.5% of GDP federal, state and local.
The last chapter of my book, "leave us alone" goes through how and why this is a good idea.
Baltimore, Md.: What government functions would you happily pay taxes for, and what functions do you not want to pay taxes for?
Grover Norquist: The legitimate functions of the national government are all listed in the Constitution.
A strong national defense to keep the Canadians off our backs. A police and court system to protect person and property.
Laurel, Md.: Since 95% of Americans are getting tax cuts under Obama's plan and the increases are the very wealthiest Americans who got huge tax cuts under Bush, how is it "populist" to complain about Obama's plan?
Grover Norquist: The claim that Obama will cut taxes for 95% and not raise taxes on anyone making less than $250,000 is already stale.
His budget calls for energy taxes of more than $3000 for a family of four....aka cap and trade or cap and tax.
If you heat your home, use air conditioning your tax burden--as seen painfully in your home heating bill--is going up.
smokers have already been screwed. They tend to be lower income--save Obama himself.
And Obama calls for higher taxes on oil produced domestically so your gasoline in your car is going up....oddly not just rich people drive.
And that $500 tax credit. only for some and gone in two years...did you really believe that campaign line. How old are you?
Reston, Va.: The media is portraying these rallies as something unique. The impression I got from your chat (we haven't had a permit issue for the past 20 years) is that these have been an annual event.
How many of these tax day protests have been held in the past, and why is there so much outrage over them now?
Grover Norquist: We used to do one each year around April 15.
The Washington rallies were smaller than this one.
Never had as bad weather. Sometimes we did them inside.
But the Clinton folks didn't mess with us.
Never before had so many demos occurred around the nation.
Washington, D.C.: What is the long term vision for tax reform?
Grover Norquist: Long Term:
We should move to tax consumed income one time at one rate.
This means taxing income when you earn it or when you spend it. A flat rate income tax or a single rate sales tax.
WE should eliminate the multiple bites at the apple--taxes on investments, the death tax.
TAx us once and leave us alone.
Alexandria, Va.: For the past several paychecks, I have actually gotten more money (tax cut), so I really don't understand why people are protesting higher taxes. Are they all making more than $250,000?
Grover Norquist: No.
But folks are looking ahead and see the middle class tax hikes
Obama/Reid and Pelosi are teeing up.
Grover Norquist: Closing statement.
It has been great fun. Good questions. Visit www.atr.org
for our ongoing conversation about taming the Leviathan.
My book, "leave us alone" is also a good outline of both my views on tax reform and spending limitation and politics in general.
I leave now to go see my lovely daughters Grace Salam Norquist and Giselle Salma Norquist. Giselle was born last week and needs protection from her well-meaning and larger one year old sister.
Peoria, Ill.: What would happen if the whole federal government shut down because of lack of revenue?
Grover Norquist: Local traffic would ease.
Oak Hill, Va.: You said you are concerned with "total spending." If total spending on health care can be better controlled with universal coverage would you be for it? America spends almost 16 percent of GDP on health care now with our free market methods, much more than other first world countries with social health care programs.
Grover Norquist: Other countries keep costs down by rationing care.
No fun if you are 75
Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.