With the fiscal cliff looming at the end of the year, lobbyist Grover Norquist will once again wield enormous influence among conservative lawmakers.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), appearing on "Meet the Press" this weekend, asked a question that many Americans can't answer: Who is Grover Norquist?
"I met him for the first time this morning," McCaskill said of the Americans for Tax Reform leader. "Nice to meet him. But, you know, who is he?"
Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform, holds no elective office, but he has managed to get most Republicans and some Democrats in conservative districts to sign his Taxpayer Protection Pledge.
The pledge opposing all tax increases has been signed by 238 House members and 41 Senators in the current Congress.
Perhaps more feared than loved among Republicans, Norquist has critics among them, but only a select few have been brazen enough to take on the anti-tax crusader.
George H.W. Bush put it more bluntly than McCaskill, and was not really asking a question at all when talking about Norquist:
"The rigidity of those pledges is something I don't like," Bush responded. "The circumstances change and you can't be wedded to some formula by Grover Norquist. It's -- who the hell is Grover Norquist, anyway?"
The elder Bush was vilified by Norquist for breaking his own "Read My Lips" promise not to hike taxes during his one and only term in office. Like Bush, today's Republicans may be compelled to go along with modest tax increases.
There is a strong risk that unless a compromise is reached the GOP will be blamed for driving the nation off the "fiscal cliff" into another deep recession. Barring a deal, automatic tax increases and major spending cuts will take effect on January 2.
A small number of Republicans are hinting they may go along with tax hikes on the richest 2 percent of Americans if it means we can avert the disaster.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) publicly nudged away from the pledge last week.
"I care too much about my country — I care a lot more about it than I do Grover Norquist," the senator told a Georgia TV station.
Still, in a sign that Norquist still holds considerable sway, Norquist told the Washington Post that Chambliss called to assure him "he did not mean to imply they had major differences when it came to GOP principles on taxes."
And despite an Election Day drubbing that swept President Barack Obama back into office, Republicans leaders in the House and Senate appear to be digging in the heels for a fight with the White House.
"Based on where we stand today—first, despite the claims that the President supports a balanced approach, the Democrats have yet to get serious about real spending cuts," said Speaker of the House John Boehner.
Secretary Treasurer Tim Geithner isn't buying it. He implied over the weekend that Boehner and company are only posturing, knowing full well that Americans have no major beef with having the wealthiest pay more if it means solving the deficit issue.
"What we're not going to do is extend those (Bush-era) tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans." Geithner told CNN. "Those cost $1 trillion over 10 years. And there's no possibility that we're going to find a way to get our fiscal house in order without those tax rates going back up."
Faced with this reality, Geithner expects the GOP to cave. However, order to appease Norquist and his powerful lobby, most Republicans will only go along with the tax hikes in an 11th hour compromise, begging "We had no choice."
by RTT Staff Writer
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