Enough Is Enough: Abolish the IRS
By Grover Norquist
Center Street, 352 pp., $20.25 (Amazon)
Among the more enjoyable spectacles of Washington in recent years has been watching Grover Norquist eluding once again a contingent of media foxhounds in full bray, yelping and jumping at the bottom of a tree in which, they are convinced, they have finally trapped the prominent anti-tax guru. One such episode took place in November 2012, shortly after President Obama’s reelection—and at a time when official Washington faced a choice between a grand fiscal compromise and the austere budget cuts that would kick in automatically under what was known as “sequestration.”
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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.
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.”
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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 when the 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.
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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?