Today, as millions of Americans have coalesced to demand the wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes, one crusader, pledge in hand, stands in the way: Grover Norquist.
In honor of tax day, protesters met in front of the offices of the Norquist-founded Americans for Tax Reform to demand progressive tax reform. They expressed their discontent with signs and a variety of popular tunes reworked as protest jingles, such as “Someday Grover Won’t Reign So” in the tune of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
For more than 25 years Norquist has staunchly fought any form of tax increase as head of Americans for Tax Reform. Armed with his “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” Norquist has amassed a legion of 236 House members and 41 senators who refuse to raise taxes even in the face of growing wealth inequality.
The crowd booed in disapproval as Chuck Collins, senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, denounced Norquist’s involvement in filibustering the popular Buffet Rule, which would tax unearned income at the same rate as wages. “We object to there being a two-tier tax system in America: one tax system for the very wealthy 1 percent and a couple thousand global corporations and another tax system for everybody else,” Collins said.
For members of the GOP, taking the pledge is a rite of passage. Once they have signed their lifelong commitment, they know that as far as tax issues go, they can enjoy the support of over 90% of their Republican compatriots. However, if they ever decide to break their pact for any reason, they will face inevitable political suicide.
A recent study by Michael Tomz of Stanford and Robert Van Houweling of Berkeley shows that politicians who sign the pledge are more likely to gain support, and those who break it are more likely to be defeated come election time, even when voters support higher taxes.
In cases where only one candidate had signed the pledge, “the pledged candidate would maximize his vote by maintaining an anti-tax stance unless at least 98% of voters wanted higher taxes,” the study says. In this scenario, it appears that voters are attracted to the candidate who makes the pledge, even if they would support some tax increases.
And for candidates who dare to break the pledge, “The adverse response is so strong that many people will vote against a pledge-breaker, even if that candidate best represents their views,” the study says.
Norquist’s pledge has taken on a life of its own. Despite overwhelming popular support for tax increases as a means of cutting the deficit, politicians who advocate the contrary continue to remain in office.
The anti-pledge coalition, which includes groups such as the Center for American Progress, American Federation of Government Employees, Campaign for America’s Future, the AFL-CIO and scores of others, highlighted how tax fairness is beneficial to the 99 percent, as well as the wealthy.
Since Norquist began his crusade, the United States has seen widespread tax cuts, such as those put in effect by the Bush administration, while military spending has continued to grow. According to Brown University’s “Cost of War” report, the U.S. government is estimated to have spent between $3 trillion and $4 trillion in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Higher war expenditures coupled with less tax revenue leave less and less money for public services that are necessary for maintaining the economy.
Self-identified 1 percenter and Columbia Business school professor Eric J. Schoenberg put the matter in perspective. “It is impossible to create wealth without a good system of public schools to provide an educated work force; without soldiers, policeman and fireman to provide security; without a transportation infrastructure to provide access to a national market of customers,” he said.
For more information on how you can get involved in fighting Norquist’s pledge you can visit stopthepledge.org.