Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, is best known for the tax pledge that his group asks Republican candidates and politicians to sign. The pledge basically says that the signee will not support new taxes or reductions to current tax deductions and credits, in any shape or form. Norquist joined KQED's Forum to talk about the pledge and its power, as well as immigration and reform in the criminal justice system. Highlights of the interview are below.
But first, if you are unfamiliar with the pledge, here's a copy of it written for a member of the House of Representatives (the language is slightly different in versions for governors, and members of the Senate and state legislatures).
I, _______________, pledge to the taxpayers of the _____ district
of the state of__________, and to the American people that I will: ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.
Krasny questioned Norquist on whether it's fair to punish government officials who go against the pledge. Norquist was quick to point out that the pledge is made to one's constituents, not to him or to Americans for Tax Reform:
Norquist: The pledge, if you read it—you go to our website, atr.org—the pledge is to the American people and to the people of their state. It's not to me. I know that Harry Reid misstates that, and the caller may be listening to Harry Reid, but they should go and read the pledge themselves, and then they would be glad to know that no one is making any commitments to me; they're making commitments only to their constituents…
Krasny: But if you break that pledge, you come down on them, right?
Norquist: Well, actually, they're not worried about me, they're worried about their constituents.
Krasny: Well your organization comes down on them, though, and makes it, shall we say, difficult to raise money from other sources in the GOP.
Norquist: Well, actually, I don’t think that we even put [out] a press release when George Herbert Walker Bush broke his pledge because the whole world noticed it, and they threw him out of the White House. I didn’t have to throw a rock at him; the American people said, "You said you weren't going to do that and you did it. Goodbye!"
Krasny: "Read my lips," huh?
Norquist: "Read my lips." And look, the American people don't like to be lied to—it's not a good idea to lie your way into office—and I encourage everyone to be up front: if you’re going to raise their taxes, tell 'em that you're going to raise [their] taxes when you feel like it, and they better get used to being ridden. And if your position is you're not going to raise their taxes, keep your word.
The Forum conversation didn't stop with the tax pledge. Norquist shared his opinions on immigration:
On immigration, what the Republicans are looking to move towards is Ronald Reagan's position—hardly a liberal position. We ought to be bringing all the smart guys in the world here, we ought to have a guest worker program so that farmworkers and others can come and go home and come and work, and we should certainly work with ten or eleven million people who are here who need to have earned legal status so they can not have to worry about ICE bothering them in their workplace. And these are all positions that the modern Republican party under Reagan and both Bushes have staked out. If you look at what’s happening right now in D.C.—the number one stumbling block to immigration reform is the [(The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organization)]’s objection to any ability to let low-skilled people come into the country to work, and to have some sort of guest worker program. They're going nuts on the subject, it's what's holding things up; it’s what killed real progress back in '86, and it’s what killed it in 2007.
If you think national defense is important, you want to be sure that money isn't wasted. You recognize that just because the government or a government agency says that they need something doesn't mean it's true, and just because you call something "national defense" doesn't make it national defense. You can be talked into spending money that's wasted, and so you should look at the Pentagon's budget with a serious questioning eye, or you ask how [they're] spending the money, how wisely are [they] spending the money, do we need to spend the money this way, can we reform government so that it costs less? And that's true for the Pentagon as much as farm subsidies, and we should be very careful in how we spend every penny.
I was very pleased that the overwhelming Republican response to this sequester was, "go ahead." The Pentagon can take a haircut, the Pentagon can be treated as you treat the rest of government, in saying, "Let’s reform government." The Republicans have twice voted to give the Pentagon more flexibility in how they save money, but not changing by a dollar the amount of money the Pentagon is expected to reduce its spending from projections over the next decade.
And the human and financial costs of the current criminal justice system:
The Left doesn't have a lot of credibility on the question of criminal justice issues because people think they want to let all these guys out of prison. And when conservatives say, "Look, we're serious about crime, we're serious about punishing crime, we want to deter crime," it is just and virtuous. There should be some prisons, and I'm in favor of executing murderers. But let's ask ourselves how much punishment is necessary, useful, and what kind of costs you want to impose—I mean, human costs. So there are all types of questions you get into when you look at prisons and the judicial system, in terms of making sure that you get serious justice and that the punishment is reasonable, that you don't end up with prisons full of guys involved in victimless crimes.
You can listen to the full interview below and find more highlights on the Forum SoundCloud page.