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The Charlie Sheen of Fiscal Policy

March 13th, 2011 . by economistmom

grover-norquist-washpost

I think Ezra Klein shows remarkable restraint in his interview of anti-tax activist Grover Norquist in today’s Washington Post.  There’s something very scarily familiar about Grover’s “winning” view of the (fiscal policy) world he works within.  The “best” answer is his last (emphasis and endnotes added):

GN: The goal is to reduce the size and scope of government spending, not to focus on the deficit. The deficit is the symptom of the disease. And there are several reasons to oppose tax increases.

First, every dollar of tax increase is a dollar you didn’t get in spending restraint.[1]

Two, you walk into the Democrats’ Andrews-Air-Force-Base, Lucy-with-the-football trick for the third time in a row.[2]

In ‘82 and ‘90, the Republicans were smart, tough, focused guys. They were taken to the cleaners. The Republicans negotiating with the Democrats are negotiating with Dick Durbin. Durbin. Durbin! Does Durbin have an interest in cutting any government program in the history of the world at any time in his life? No. Never. He’s there to sucker Republicans into putting their fingerprints on a tax increase so when you go into an election, people say, “Can’t trust them. They’ll raise taxes.”

The reason it won’t happen is that the Republicans have taken the pledge and made a promise to their constituents that they won’t increases taxes.

No, there won’t be a tax increase. That’s not happening. It’s an odd way to spend your time. I think golf and cocaine would more constructive ways to spend one’s free time time than negotiating with Democrats on spending restraint.[3]

[1] No, every dollar of a tax cut or tax increase avoided is another dollar of spending that we’ve deficit-financed and hence made seem as if “free.”  Until we force spending increases to be offset by increased taxes, (even) Republicans have little incentive to control spending.

[2] I don’t exactly get this analogy, but Grover sure seems to be channeling Charlie Brown here.  (Hmmm…a little bit insecure and paranoid, perhaps?)

[3] So does cocaine explain Grover’s (fiscal policy) world view?!

I also find it interesting how throughout the interview Grover manages to attack and/or insult just about everybody, including the conservatives/Tea Partiers he’s trying to woo. (Catch the reference to guns and home-schooling.)

I mean, let’s just call a crazy a crazy.

“Winning” is not possible for us if we allow losers like this to sway public opinion and policy.

13 Responses to “The Charlie Sheen of Fiscal Policy”

  1. comment number 1 by: Jesse

    I agree, that guy is a tool as he makes it seem as if deficit spending is a problem of the Democrat party only. It’s a bipartisan issue as both parties love to deficit spend, they just can’t agree on the type of programs.

    I wrote a blog post on the hypocrisy of none other than President Reagan that often (wrongfully) is viewed as an icon for fiscal conservatism, limited Government, and personal freedom.

    http://www.wtffinance.com/2011/03/ronald-reagan-hypocrisy-the-deficit-spending-anti-free-market-conservative/

    The only way the US can solve the economic and monetary problems we have is by changing our ways and that has to come from BOTH parties. Unless we change our ways we will see the implosion of the GDP bubble .

  2. comment number 2 by: Gipper

    I’ve taken a lot of swipes at Norquist on this and other blogs. However, I think it’s interesting that Economistmom doesn’t list any left-wing equivalents of Norquist intransigence. Paul Krugman and Obama would be a good start. These are only 2 of many left-wing knuckleheads who actually believe that we should be increasing federal spending and raising taxes in the long-run beyond 28% of GDP. I have my doubts about how much more reasonable Economistmom is on this matter.

    There is a method to Norquist’s madness. He understands that to win elections with stupid and greedy voters, Republicans must never raise taxes, and never propose radical spending cuts that will cost them votes because fiscally-irresponsible Democrats will demagogue the issue. Unfortunately, this electoral strategy leads to deficits.

    But so what? Deficits are a problem for Democrats, not Republicans. Why? Because increasing interest on the debt as a share of federal spending will inevitably force cuts in discretionary social programs that are far deeper than any that would be offered for defense and other core federal missions. That would make Republicans happy.

    There, even if in the corner of his mind, he understands that a grand bargain someday might involve a tax increase, you should never, ever let your opponents in the negotiation believe that tax increases are something easily offered.

    Again, it’s the Democrats who have created the entitlement programs that spell fiscal ruin for us in the next 20 years. It’s up to the Democrats to own the problem. Republicans have no responsibility whatsoever to be the cooperative tax collectors for the Democrats’ welfare state.

  3. comment number 3 by: AMTbuff

    Entitlement promises must be scaled back to sustainable levels. That has to be the first step, so that new tax revenue is not throwing good money after bad. Norquist might simply be using traditional negotiating tactics to achieve these reductions in entitlement promises.

    If, after spending has been brought under control, Norquist won’t put tax increase on the table, he will become irrelevant and his position will be discredited.

  4. comment number 4 by: Jim

    Thanks for this EconomistMom! Was as surprised as you at Ezra Klein abilties.

  5. comment number 5 by: Arne

    “it’s the Democrats who have created the entitlement programs ”

    Social Security was passed by an overwhelming majority of both houses.
    http://www.ssa.gov/history/tally.html

    Medicare was passed wth more Republican’s voting in favor than opposed in the House and only a small majority of the Senate Republican’ opposed.
    http://www.ssa.gov/history/tally65.html

    It is up to both parties to solve the problems.

  6. comment number 6 by: Arne

    Social Security was passed by an overwhelming majority of both parties.

  7. comment number 7 by: Centerist Cynic

    I’ve never been a Grover fan. His focus on tax cuts while failing toexplain the spending consequenses or focus on spending restraint has always bothered me.
    Portions of the American people are now beginning to understand we can not keep up the spending the Government (Repuclicans and Democrats) has promised.
    At the same time, Americans in the latest polls are showing their traditional releuctance to cut spending on anything meaningful and expressing a desire for Government to do more.
    Norquist’s focus on tax cuts has nothing to offer Congress or the President in helping to resolve the conflict caused by Americans desire for more spending and lower taxes.
    A national effort is needed to determine what Americans are willing to spend (tax policy) and where they want the money spent.
    Mr. Norquist’s focus on tax cuts alone has little to offer even in answering the questions on the tax policy portion of the question.

  8. comment number 8 by: AMTbuff

    >Norquist’s focus on tax cuts has nothing to offer Congress or the President in helping to resolve the conflict caused by Americans desire for more spending and lower taxes. A national effort is needed to determine what Americans are willing to spend (tax policy) and where they want the money spent.

    100% correct. Norquist’s position is not constructive, nor are the positions of those who recently added even more entitlements to the list of unaffordable promises that need to be broken.

    The biggest problem I see is not that Americans aren’t willing to make major adjustments to taxes and benefits. It’s that all the politicians on both sides have poisoned public opinion by implying that easy solutions were possible through minor benefit adjustments or taxing the rich. Policies designed to accelerate the onset of the crisis (tax cuts and entitlement expansion) have made the public much less likely to compromise.

    This was intentional on the part of the politicians, who wanted to set up a crisis starting line as close to their desired outcome as possible. Narrow political advantage has consistently trumped fiscal sanity, and the whole country will pay the price.

  9. comment number 9 by: Gipper

    Arne,

    OK, if you believe that the Republicans co-own Medicare and Social Security, then go on living in your political fantasy world. Republicans voting yes at the time did so because the measures would have passed anyway with near unanimous Democrat support, and there was no reason to give opponents more ammunition in upcoming elections. It was a free vote with no consequences.

    The initiators of these programs were Democrats. Democrats love to spend more than Republicans. It’s Democrats who are the most worried about consequences of not raising the debt limit, not Republicans. Republicans only act on fear of brow-beating from Democrats.

    Left-wingers like Economistmom think they can gain a moral angle against Republicans by talking tough about deficits, but they never seem to muster the fortitude to be real specific about the level of non-defense spending cuts (if any) they believe are necessary. You’ll only hear tough tax increase talk from Economistmom and her ilk.

    But Republicans are on to this. For Republicans the important issue is federal spending as a percentage of GDP. That’s the key variable to focus on, and that’s what has to be resolved between the parties. Deficits are a dependent variable after that battle is decided.

  10. comment number 10 by: John Mullowney

    Political advantage is the only game here, when the country implodes, GN will be no where to be found. The current situation will simply lead us down the path of destruction as long as there is some advantage for one side at the end. Taxpayers, the nation, no matter, advantage is everything however repulsive….

  11. comment number 11 by: AMTbuff

    If winning is defined as collapsing the promised benefits and raising tax rates to the Moon, then a crisis will most definitely be win-win for the politicians. Voters may not feel that they have won and may change their votes after this happens, assuming they retain the right to vote. It’s possible that some sort of government by unelected judiciary will be attempted, analogous to what bankruptcy judges do.

  12. comment number 12 by: Platon Rigos

    “Democrats love to spend more than Republicans. It’s Democrats who are the most worried about consequences of not raising the debt limit, not Republicans. Republicans only act on fear of brow-beating from Democrats.”
    The fact that the only budget surpluses in recent memory were Clinton’s does not seem to be part of your memory. IN many ways Democrats have learned how to balance deficit reduction with economic performance. Deficit reduction while tanking the economy does not make sense. As for Grover, the man harbors a pathological hatred of government, bureaucracy and liberals in that order. The sooner he is identified as a loose canon, the faster we can come to sound fiscal policy.

  13. comment number 13 by: BillSmith

    “The fact that the only budget surpluses in recent memory were Clinton’s”

    Who was running Congress at the time?