On 'Meet the Press,' Schumer gets Norquist, a flesh-and-blood enemy of congressional compromiseBy Reid Pillifant
Capital New York
November 28, 2011
On Sunday morning, Senator Chuck Schumer got precisely the match-up he and the Democrats wanted.
Appearing on Meet the Press, the primary architect of the Democratic message in the Senate was followed not by one of his Republican counterparts in Congress, but by the man his party is calling out as the puppetmaster of the Republicans, Grover Norquist. Norquist rebutted Schumer's substantive points about tax policy but did little to dispel the premise that Republican members of Congress were bound to follow his prescription for restraining the size of federal government.
Norquist, the founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, has been especially prominent in recent weeks, as the joint deficit committee grappled with a variety of potential revenue-raisers that threatened to bump up against Norquist's infamous pledge—signed by 236 Republican representatives and 40 senators—not to raise taxes under any circumstances.
Last week, Senator John Kerry said Norquist had been the "thirteenth member" of the joint deficit committee, and the primary reason Republicans had been so unwilling to budge on anything resembling a compromise. Schumer seconded that notion when host David Gregory questioned whether it's too easy to blame Norquist for the committee's failure.
"Well, he does have a great deal of clout," Schumer replied, "and one of the members of the supercommittee, a Democrat, said to me that when they started talking about revenues, the Republican members all said, 'We'll never pass anything with any revenues in either the House or Senate because of the pledge.'"
Though the two appeared separately, it was a chance for Schumer to spar with an actual opponent, after months of shadow-boxing the leaderless Tea Party.
Schumer began his appearance by saying Democrats in the Senate would introduce the payroll tax cut when they reconvene this week. He said it's an idea that Republicans have supported in the past with no less than Marco Rubio, Mike Simpson and Newt Gingrich making "favorable noises" about it.
"On the other side, of course, is the man who has a great deal of clout who you're going to have on the show right after me, Grover Norquist," Schumer said. "He believes that raising this tax or letting this tax expire does not violate the pledge that people signed, even though raising the Bush tax cuts, letting those expire would. It's hard to understand the logic of saying one is a tax increase and one isn't."
And, a few minutes later, after Schumer had been replaced on the video feed by Norquist, Gregory asked him about the senator's point.
"You heard Senator Schumer about the payroll tax cut extension, which Democrats would like to do," Gregory said, referring to the Bush tax cuts on a 10-year time horizon. "Why is it that a payroll tax extension that is not extended, why isn't that a tax increase?"
"Well, two things: I'm not opposed to extending the payroll tax, particularly," Norquist replied. "I think it's destructive to, to extend it and raise some other tax the same dollar amount, matter of fact, in a more destructive economic policy. But the other piece to this is the reason why people view the one-year tax holiday that Obama put in a year ago, as a temporary tax increase was that President Obama said it was going to be temporary when he put it in. When the Republicans in the House and Senate passed the '01 and '03 tax cuts, those were, as, as their advocates said, intended to be permanent. They weren't for reasons of, of Democratic filibusters, but they were always intended to be permanent tax reductions. Obama was the guy who said that this was a tax holiday. Calling it a tax holiday kind of suggests they viewed it as temporary. Holidays aren't permanent."
Norquist has been on something of a publicity tour of late. The previous Sunday, he sat for an extended interview on 60 Minutes, which pushed Norquist as the most powerful man in Washington, a portrayal that would seem to delight Democrats.
Not all Republicans are happy to have him as the public protector of the brand.
"I think the Democrats are giving him a lot more credit, or discredit, than he deserves," Representative Peter King told me last week.
King signed the no-tax pledge in 1996, when Republicans were first running for re-election as a majority party, to signal that he supported a balanced budget without tax increases. But he doesn't feel bound by that now.
"There's no way in the world he can say that a document you signed in 1996 for that election is binding into the future," King said. "If that was the case, we'd still be fighting the Japanese, or fighting the Soviets. So, that to me shows how desperate he is."
King was one of 40 Republicans who signed a letter urging the deficit committee to consider "all options," and he said there were a lot of other members who felt alienated by the notion that was some kind of heresy to a distant pledge.
"I know it turned a lot of people off when he claimed that they were on his list," he said. "I don't want to give Grover Norquist too much credit, so I really can't say. It certainly had no impact on me, that's for sure."