Grover Norquist is the fiscal conscience of his party. Everyone in Washington knows what “the pledge” means. It’s a vow Norquist demands of every new incoming Republican on Capitol Hill: A vow to never vote for an increase in taxation. Ninety five percent of Republican lawmakers have taken that pledge. “It’s been 22 years since a Republican voted for a tax increase in this town,” the 56-year-old recently boasted.
It could well be time for that to change. Resistance to the staunch Puritan is afoot among Republicans. Several of his party colleagues currently see Norquist as a stumbling block on the road to a budget deal.
The U.S. economy is racing toward a “fiscal cliff” at the end of this year — provided that Congress does nothing. If Congress doesn’t come up with some alternative plan to reduce the budget deficit, automatic cuts take effect. If no agreement is reached, the Bush tax cuts, including those for higher earners, will disappear. The double shock to the recovery could plunge the economy back into recession.
Now, influential Republicans are demanding more ideological freedom. “When you’re $16 trillion in debt, the only pledge we should be making to each other is to avoid becoming Greece,” Senator Lindsey Graham said in a television appearance. Even Senator John McCain appeared willing to consider raising revenues and Senator Bob Corker explained on Monday that he did not feel bound by Norquist’s pledge.
It’s a near-mutiny against the man who has stood at the epicenter of the mid-1990s Republican revolution that itself was a protest against the Clinton administration. Together with future Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich—recently defeated in his bid for the Republican nomination for the presidency—he was responsible for the 1994 platform that won the Republicans a majority in the House.
Norquist was a natural ally of the Tea Party movement and considering his insistence from the outset that government lower taxes, he led the way for the movement early on. The idea for his anti-tax pledge came to him when, as a 12-year-old volunteer helper for the Richard Nixon campaign and under Ronald Reagan, he got his chance to realize his ideas. In founding “Americans for Tax Reform” in 1985, his lobbying efforts helped George H. W. Bush work up the tax cuts that today have become so controversial.
Norquist doesn’t limit his extremely conservative views to just the tax issue. As a young man, he traveled to war zones to support anti-Soviet guerrilla troops from Nicaragua to Laos. He’s an active member of the National Rifle Association that lobbies for the right of American citizens to keep and bear arms.
But Norquist, a Harvard graduate, is anything but a fanatic in his private life. His wife is a Kuwaiti Palestinian who previously worked for the U.S. developmental assistance agency USAID. In 2010, the right wing conservative became a member of GOProud, an organization representing conservative gay men, lesbians and their allies, thereby incurring the wrath of fundamentalist Christians in his party. Norquist is only a staunch moral apostle when it comes to the tax issue. “We’ve got some people discussing impure thoughts on national television,” he recently commented about his critics on a Sunday television talk show. He’s not likely to so easily forgive those Republicans who renounce his pledge.