(Karri Bragg) – Yesterday I interviewed Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, in advance of his trip this weekend to Las Vegas. In it, Grover discusses taxes, Ronald Reagan, taxes, Harry Reid, taxes, the Tax Pledge, taxes, Scott Brown, taxes, Nevada’s budget crunch, and taxes.
Let’s start with your upcoming trip to Nevada, where you will be featured as the special VIP guest at this week’s First Friday Happy Hour. First Friday was started in D.C., and has now become wildly successful here in Las Vegas. Our friends up in Reno have even started one up. Why do you think this concept is so popular?
It’s a wonderful idea. It’s a painfully obvious idea. It’s sad that we haven’t been doing this for 30 years. Every state capital, every major city should have a get-together like Nevada’s First Friday. The good news is that as soon as people are hearing about it, it is getting organized city-by-city, capital-by-capital.
Look, it’s a way to get together younger people who may already be activists, may look to become activists. You get a bunch of Republicans, conservatives, and libertarians together, you don’t have to tell them what to talk about. They’ll talk about politics, they’ll talk about what they are doing. They will create dotted lines on an organizational chart that you couldn’t organize if you were trying to be commander of the movement from some high perch.
This is how movements are built. And it’s a great idea. The success that Nevada has had with First Friday should teach every state that this is the way to go.
You are also in town for the Reagan Birthday Party and kickoff for the Reagan Legacy Project here in Nevada. Why do you think commemorating Reagan so important?
Well, several reasons. The Establishment press would like to drop Reagan down the memory hole. They want to highlight Hoover and Bush and say “See, Republicans don’t succeed.” They would prefer not to have long and repeated conversations about the Reagan Administration, which prove the Left wrong on everything.
Reagan said we should cut taxes, not raise them and that led to economic growth. The Left said that it would lead to inflation and unemployment, and it did the opposite. Reagan said that inflation is not caused by oil prices, or Arabs, or big businesses, it is caused by the government printing too much money- so he had the government stop printing too much money. Inflation came down from 10-12% down toward 1-2%. You had Reagan’s argument that the Soviet Union was the threat to peace not a Strong America, the opposite of what the Left said.
Reagan rebuilt America’s defenses and the Soviet Union collapsed and broke into pieces. So Ronald Reagan’s life of fighting the Unions, fighting the Communists in the Unions, opposing the Soviet Union’s empire – he was right on all the big issues and the Left was wrong on all the big issues. He lived to see the Right be proved correct and the Left to be embarrassed by their failures.
Every time someone flies into Reagan Airport in D.C. there are many teaching moments where a child says to a mother or father, “Why are we flying into Reagan airport?” and the parent says “Well, here’s who Ronald Reagan is, and what he did.” So, until they create public schools that can teach history, we can at least teach people every time they hike on Mount Reagan or drive on the Reagan Highway or fly into Reagan Airport.
Your organization, Americans for Tax Reform, was started at the request of President Reagan. Can you tell me about your relationship with the President, and how your organization came about?
Americans for Tax Reform was organized to support what became the 1986 Tax Reform Act, which took the top rate of the personal income tax from 50 percent down to 28 percent and the corporate rate from 50 down to 35. ATR was brought together to fight for those rate reductions and during that fight, I created the Taxpayer Protection Pledge as part of making the case for tax reform.
By signing the Pledge, incumbents and candidates for office commit to never vote for a tax increase. About 95 percent of all the Republicans who run for federal office take the Pledge and keep it. It has turned the Republican Party into not just the Party that from time to time supports tax cuts, but one that opposes all tax increases.
We’ve got candidates all over the place claiming to be the Reagan candidate. Which Reagan elements do you think they should be striving for? And looking at races all across the country, do you see any candidates who are truly Reagan-esque?
Because Reagan was so successful, people like to claim his legacy. So all sorts of silly people claim to be walking in Reagan’s shoes and I think it’s important to remember that Reagan was active in supporting other candidates. So I would ask anybody who wants to run for President, show me not just what you’ve done to get yourself re-elected to Senate or Governor, show me what you’ve done to support other people. Show me what you’ve done to support state think tanks, state taxpayer groups, and other institutions that deserve your support.
Reagan had a policy of coming up with 3 to 4 easy-to-understand, not simple, but easy-to-understand policies. He wanted to cut marginal tax rates, he wanted to cut the growth in spending, he wanted fewer and less burdensome regulations on employers and he wanted a strong national defense that didn’t get us permanently entangled in different fights. He was very wise on focusing on the Soviet Union and not chasing down everybody who decided to annoy the United States and take a shot at them.
So, I would say Reagan was the model. There was some silly effort after the 2008 election when George Bush and McCain, two people who are definitely not Ronald Reagan, lost the Presidency and the House and Senate for us and said, “Oh Reagan is not important anymore” and then a year later, tax rates are key, spending is key, a strong and focused foreign policy is key, the regulatory regime being reigned in is key- all of these things are very, very important.
Reagan’s issues are always there, like Jefferson and Washington in terms of what the President and government should and should not do.
As you know, Nevada has a hotly-contested U.S. Senate race for Harry Reid’s seat this year. Care to give a prediction as to Harry Reid’s fate?
Well it certainly doesn’t look as though Harry Reid can be re-elected if there is an honest vote count. He’s consistently voted as the leader of the Left wing of the Democratic Party, not as a Senator from Nevada. He’s not protected Nevada, he’s not helped Nevada, he’s never thought about Nevada, he has paid bribes to Nebraska and Louisiana to buy votes for various Left-wing initiatives. This is not a man of the West, this is not a man of Nevada, this is somebody who is sort-of Ted Kennedy’s intern and whose been voting and leading the Senate in a very Left-wing way. It’s very odd for somebody who should be, at least from time-to-time, voting in the interests of Nevada, to vote like he’s from Manhattan.
Even though a few candidates like Sue Lowden & John Chachas are pulling in big money, their numbers aren’t quite up to snuff with the majority leader. Do you think Reid’s big war chest will keep him out of hot water?
Well, we saw that the Democrats in Massachusetts had an unlimited amount of money and they lost the Senate seat there. Once people have decided that they don’t like the dog food, the ability to advertise the dog food drops.
From what you’ve seen and heard of the candidates in the Republican primary, do you see anyone who has what it takes to defeat Reid? Any candidate that you are favoring?
Well, Americans for Tax Reform’s central concern is people taking the Pledge. Sue Lowden took it early and has been a strong supporter of the Pledge and defender of that position. Tarkanian has taken the Pledge as well. Chachas has not taken the Pledge yet, and I don’t understand why, but he hasn’t. We would encourage all of the candidates to start by committing to voters that they won’t raise taxes and then go from there.
We’re not-so-secretly hoping that the Scott Brown fever spreads to Nevada. What do you think it is that has conservative voters so fired up this election year?
Several things. The first is the deliberately wasteful and corrupt spending that Obama, Reid, and Pelosi have engaged in. They’ve passed $780 billion in pork barrel spending. That $780 billion is one long string of earmarks.
You are the man behind the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. We sometimes hear that the Pledge is outdated or that it ties legislators’ hands. Can you tell me why that isn’t the case, and why it’s so important for candidates to sign the Pledge?
Actually I’ve never heard that from anybody except a guy named Jon Ralston, who seems to not like the Pledge. I’ve met him and talked to him about it, and he doesn’t really seem to have a reason for it.
Here’s what the Pledge does: it is a fairly enforceable commitment. Obama got elected saying many things. He said, “Oh I want transparency.” Well, what does that mean? People think they knew what it meant; they thought they had a promise from him. He promised he wouldn’t raise taxes on anybody who doesn’t earn less than $250,000 a year, but it turns out to be, “Well, if you’re an individual who earns $200,000.”
The Pledge is written down, so people don’t get confused about what’s in it. So you make the Pledge, or you don’t, and then people can see whether you kept it or not.
I’ve never had somebody say, “Oh, well you think I broke the Pledge but I didn’t.” It is very clearly written down what the commitment is, and whether or not someone kept it is easy to see. For those candidates, like Reid, who can only get elected if they say one thing to voters and do something else when they get in Washington – the Pledge doesn’t allow that. The promise you make to voters and how you behave – it is one and the same. So it’s a very important tool that gives politicians less leverage.
We even have some Republican legislators in the legislature here who refuse to sign the Pledge. They are even going after the candidates who are signing the Pledge and they are discouraging colleagues and GOP candidates from signing. They are controlling the campaign checkbooks and are influential. How can citizens overcome this opposition to the Pledge and get candidates to sign despite the fact that it might make their job tougher in the long haul when it comes to getting elected?
Citizens should refuse to make a contribution to any candidate who doesn’t take the Pledge or any institution that doesn’t support Pledge signers. If somebody in leadership says “Give me the money and I’ll hand it out to other people in return for buying their votes” and they aren’t willing to work with Pledge takers, and only Pledge takers, then you shouldn’t contribute to them. You make contributions to those who sign the Pledge.
There are some people who don’t want to make promises to voters because they always want to be free to cut a deal. What kind of deal would you want to cut that ends up in higher taxes?
We’re facing a budget crunch here in Nevada. Some people are saying, “We’re already cut to the bone, the only way to cut more is to cut the essential, critical services that we can’t live without.” I know you’ve heard that many times. Does that hold any water?
Well, if you say, “What happens if you went back to a budget from 2, 5, or 10 years ago? Well, the world didn’t end when you operated on that budget 5 years ago with less spending, so why would it end now? As a matter of fact, we got along perfectly well in the past without that additional spending.“
If somebody tells you the only way to reduce spending is to cut, fill in the blank, let’s say education – what they’ve just told you is that their lowest priority is education. If they were to take a dollar out, that’s where they would take it out.
A lot of politicians play an interesting game. They are trying to convince you that there is no way to cut spending so they say, “The things we have to cut are the things we think you want the most.” That means that their priorities are opposite of those of the citizens. That is someone who is deliberately trying to annoy citizens and convince them that they cannot, and will not, reduce spending.
I went through this in Arizona with the governor’s chief economic guys, and every time I’d suggest something to cut, they’d say “Oh, well that’s not enough money to solve the problem.” Well no, not any one of them, but if they were serious about it, they would have taken many $100 million here, $50 million there, off the table. They weren’t even trying.
What do you see as the biggest reforms or cuts that every state can embrace to reduce the cost of government?
I would talk about procedural reforms first.
Many states, such as Texas, post every check online so that you can see every check written to a company, every contract signed and know exactly where the money is going. By doing that what you’ve done is allowed ever person in the state can look at the plumbing bill, the lawn mowing bills, or the cost of a ream of paper. Most people aren’t experts on everything, but everybody is an expert on something. So if you can have a million pairs of eyes looking at a budget, they will tell you where you are spending more than necessary.
The only reason not to post every check written, because it is all online somewhere although maybe not visible to citizens, is to hide what you are doing. So step 1: post everything.
Step 2: Have a five day waiting period before bills can be voted on. It must be online 5 days. They won’t be able to pass 1,000 page bills because the whole point of a 1,000 page bill is to hide what you are doing. Putting the bills online, with a search engine, makes it possible for people to see this stuff.
We had this discussion in California. The press asked me, “What would you cut from the budget?” and I said, “You know what? I don’t know, you don’t know, because the budget is a big black box. Put everything online and then we collectively can answer your question.“
You cannot have someone say, “The budget has been scrubbed, but you cannot look at it online.” You cannot say that. Well, you cannot say that and be an honest person. You can say it, because Obama just did the other day. But you can’t say it and be an honorable and honest person.