Enough Is Enough: Abolish the IRSPosted: April 11, 2015
Robert W. Merry reviews Grover Norquist’s new book
Congress would never allow sequestration to take effect, according to the media wisdom of the day, and hence Republicans would have to accept tax increases as part of the alternative fiscal bargain. That would mean the GOP would have to repudiate the famous Tax Pledge devised by Norquist and signed by nearly every congressional Republican. That, in turn, would destroy the force and power of that nettlesome Tax Pledge—and dislodge Norquist from his prominent place as Horatio at the bridge of tax policy.
[Order Grover Norquist’s book “End the IRS Before It Ends Us: How to Restore a Low Tax, High Growth, Wealthy America“, Center Street, 352 pp., $20.25 at Amazon.com]
This particular episode took place around the luncheon table of the Center for the National Interest (publisher of this website and its allied magazine), and the media hounds went after Norquist with the glee of those who know they are about to witness a political comeuppance of serious magnitude. Through it all, the imperturbable Norquist confidently and quietly held his ground—never ruffled, never riled, never lacking in magnanimity, seemingly sure of his aces. “This isn’t my first rodeo,” he said, and laid out a lucid political explanation for why his Pledge would hold, even in the face of such tectonic pressures.
The next day, the Los Angeles Times offered an analysis entitled, “Grover Norquist the has-been.” It proclaimed that “even he can’t ignore the signs that his hold is slipping.” The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, after quoting Norquist’s insistence that congressional Republicans would adhere to their anti-tax heritage, even in the face of the looming sequestration decision, wrote with a smirk, “Also, the dog ate Norquist’s homework.” He added that Norquist’s confidence on the matter suggested he “had been on a long trip in a remote location.” The New York Times, in a front-page feature, suggested Norquist “finds himself in a tricky spot.”
What happened next? The sequestration deadline came and went, no grand fiscal compromise emerged, the austere spending cuts went into effect, and Norquist’s famous Pledge remained intact, as did the political standing and influence of Norquist himself. Dana Milbank never got around to revealing to his readers his own remote location whenthe dog was eating his prediction of Norquist’s political demise. Truly, Norquist is a Washington figure to be reckoned with.
Now he bundles up his anti-tax sentiments and political assessments into a sprightly volume entitled: End the IRS Before It Ends Us: How to Restore a Low Tax, High Growth, Wealthy America. It’s a book of many parts: primer on America’s tax history and growth in government; polemical expose of liberal legerdemain on the issue; policy recommendations for smaller government, strong economic growth and a streamlined tax system; and paean to the energy and efficiency of unfettered capitalism. He even provides an amusing narrative of the earnest efforts of his adversaries to obliterate his famous Pledge, all to no avail.
The reason they can’t obliterate it, writes Norquist, is that the American people are on to the ominous consequences of inexorable governmental expansion and fiscal incontinence. Currently, U.S. governmental spending—federal, state and local—amounts to 34 percent of the national economy, while taxes consume about 30 percent of annual GDP. And what’s going to happen to tax rates and the governmental share of GDP, he asks, when it comes time to pay down the $17 trillion in federal debt (nearly $8 trillion of it added on Obama’s watch) or the $123 trillion in “unfunded liabilities” accumulated through years of irresponsible government spending?
All this has generated civic angers that in turn spawned the Tea Party phenomenon of the early Obama years—the country’s first mass movement focused primarily on governmental spending. During the week of April 15, 2009, Americans gathered across the country in more than 600—perhaps as many as a thousand—anti-spending rallies with up to a million participants. As Norquist puts it, “A wall of opposition to government spending rose up.” At the next election, Republicans campaigning against government spending and Obama’s stimulus legislation captured the House by gaining sixty-three seats in that chamber; they also picked up a net gain of six Senate seats.
Two years later, though, the Tea Party movement seemed to have petered out. Republicans failed to oust Obama from the White House or to capture the four Senate seats needed for control of that chamber. What happened?
According to Norquist, the answer is simple. “The Tea Party didn’t fall down the stairs. It was pushed.”
It was pushed, he writes, by the Internal Revenue Service, that federal behemoth with nearly 85,000 employees and custodianship over the four-million words that constitute the tax code and accompanying regulations—an agency “with the ability to spy on your life, to demand to see your every bank account and possession, to fine you and assess interest penalties, and even to send you to prison.”
Norquist cites a scholarly study by academics at Harvard and Stockholm University that seems to demonstrate that Tea Party rallies had a significant impact on driving anti-tax voters to the polls in 2010. By comparing areas where rallies were held with those where rallies had been thwarted by rainfall, they could calculate how Tea Party rally attendance actually affected vote totals in the subsequent elections. The researchers concluded that the rallies drove between 3.2 million and 5.8 million additional voters to the polls in 2010 House elections. “It turns out rallies really do matter,” writes Norquist.
But no such factor materialized in 2012, he argues, because the IRS thwarted the emergence of Tea Party organizations by letting applications pile up at the office of Exempt Organizations. This occurred under the now-famous Lois Lerner, described by columnist George Will as a “partisan bully.”
The story of Lois Lerner and the scandal of apparent IRS abuse of power in the matter of Tea Party organizations is well known, and it is noteworthy in part because the true story has never been fully pried out of the innards of the IRS bureaucracy. But there is plenty of circumstantial evidence to suggest serious wrongdoing, and Norquist summarizes it effectively. Of course, it would have been helpful if the IRS had provided Lerner’s emails during this period, but the agency said those emails were missing…..(read more)
Robert W. Merry, longtime Washington political reporter and publishing executive, is the author of books on American history and foreign policy.
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