A major fight erupted this morning over whether leading anti-tax jihadist Grover Norquist let slip that letting the Bush tax cuts expire wouldn’t constitute a violation of his fearsome anti tax pledge, which has been signed by virtually every GOPer in Congress. This would be a big deal, because it would reveal a major hole in Norquist’s stance, suggest GOP disarray on taxes, and suggest that there is a way for Republicans to embrace a sensible solution to the deficit without crossing the all powerful Norquist.
Norquist is downplaying reports that he made the claim, which came in an interview with the Post editorial board. But a reporter who was present confirms to me that he did, in fact, repeatedly say just that.
The fight started when Norquist was quoted in a Post editorial saying: “Not continuing a tax cut is not technically a tax increase.” Asked if it would violate his pledge, Norquist said: “We wouldn’t hold it that way.”
The White House and Dems immediately pounced, arguing that Norquist had revealed that GOP anti-tax unity is cracking under pressure. “This is a development the significance of which should not be underestimated,” Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor today. “Norquist is trying to signal to the House GOP that their no-compromise position is untenable, deteriorating, and bad for their party and the country.”
Or, as Think Progress put it, Grover had revealed a “chink in the Norquistian armor.”
Norquist, unsurprisingly, quickly walked back his assertion, claiming that “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.”
But Post reporter Karen Tumulty, who was at the interview with Norquist and took careful notes, confirms to me that he did make the controversial concession.
“The very specific question was, `Would that be regarded as a violation of the pledge?’” Tumulty tells me. “What he said is that it’s not a violation of the pledge. We were surprised, so he was pressed on it. He repeated it several times.”
It’s unclear why Norquist even wields this sort of influence in the first place, but if Republicans are going to accord him this power, his concession is no small thing. Norquist has revealed a very serious crack in the wall of his anti-tax fortress. The Bush tax cuts are set to expire under current law, and no matter how many times he insists that letting them expire constitutes a tax hike, Republicans can do so without having violated the Sanctity of Norquist’s Iron Law.
UPDATE: The Post has just posted audio of the exchange.
And here’s video of Chuck Schumer hammering away at Norquist on the Senate floor today.
Read more on PostPolitics